New Blood - a look behind the scenes
Last week the BBC revealed that its highly-anticipated Anthony Horowitz detective drama New Blood will debut later this year on BBC iPlayer before transferring to BBC1.
Here, we talk to Horowitz and the production team behind the show about out what makes the series stand out.
New Blood is a bold and surprising 7 x 60 crime thriller created and written by Anthony Horowitz, and produced by Eleventh Hour Films. Commissioned by the BBC, it sets out to show a unique side of London, through the eyes of two outsiders, says Horowitz – whose recent TV successes include Collision and period detective series Foyle’s War:
“For a long time I’ve been wondering how to take a fresh approach to crime drama and I hope that with New Blood I’ve succeeded. This is a show about the so-called Y generation - young people starting out in their careers, the powerless against the powerful. It’s so refreshing to be writing about two central characters who are still in their late twenties and 21st century London is the perfect setting.”
For Horowitz (pictured right), the show is an attempt to break away from the clichés usually associated with the detective genre. “Picture the scene… there’s a body lying on the pavement in the rain. A police car pulls up, a man gets out. He’s middle-aged, married, has a drink problem. We’ve seen him a thousand times.
"In the background, there’s a young guy whose job it is to hold off the traffic and keep people back. I thought - wouldn’t it be great to look at that guy? He’s young, he wants to be a detective, he’s at beginning of his career, living in London. And he’s part of the first generation to be worse off than their parents.”
Horowitz’ central characters are junior investigators Stefan, who has a Polish background, and Rash, who is of Iranian origin. Although they are opposites in many ways, they share the same frustrations with life - underpaid, unappreciated and undermined. Lumbered with huge university loans, they can’t afford to buy a house and have little or no job security. They are both British - but not part of the establishment. In terms of their working lives, says Horowitz, they are attached to two different law enforcement divisions.
The idea of positioning them in different branches of the system is new, adds Horowitz: “Usually with TV shows, the characters are all attached to the same unit. But Rash is with the Met and Stefan is the Serious Fraud Office. The SFO is a fantastic organisation fighting white collar crime, never before dramatised on TV.”
The pair are thrown together by two seemingly unrelated cases, says Horowitz.
This brings them up against the super-rich and powerful – corporations, individuals, governments and the new breed of criminals who hide behind legitimate facades and are guarded by lawyers. In the first series, three stories centre on the pharmaceutical, construction and charity sectors.
Inevitably this premise, which swings between the transient nature of London living and its established power-players, has had significant implications for the way London is portrayed in the series – a point Jill Green, right, head of Eleventh Hour Films and executive producer on New Blood is keen to emphasise. “This isn’t the London of James Bond or John Le Carré. It’s London as it really is today – a dynamic, multicultural, 21st century capital city,” she says, “And it has a really fun bromance at its heart.”
The chief responsibility for turning that vision into a reality lay with Eleventh Hour Films series producer Eve Gutierrez. An experienced pair of hands whose recent credits include Collision, Injustice and Vexed, Gutierrez told The Knowledge: “New Blood was appealing to me because it was portraying a slice of life that I haven’t seen on mainstream television.”
One of the first decisions taken with regard to locations was “to avoid west London because so many other shows are shot there. So we targeted east London where you have a great combination of new style and Victorian architecture, as well as locations like Kings Cross, the O2, the Excel, City Airport. The east seemed like a part of the city where Stefan and Rash would live and also brought us closer to the financial centre.”
A first port of call was Film London: “We knew we wanted to go east. So we asked which boroughs we should talk to – who would have the right locations at the right price and who would welcome filming. We spoke to a few but the one that suited our needs was Barking and Dagenham, which became the base for our production. I can’t speak highly enough of Lisa Dee, who works in the film office there. She was really supportive.”
Gutierrez says New Blood was based at London East – UK, a site “where we shot our police station, Indian Hospital and several other locations. "But we also needed to use a number of other locations across London and that was very challenging. Office space is very hard to come by because London is so busy and prices are so high. Finding somewhere in the proximity of Canary Wharf was especially difficult – not just because of the price of the property but because some people were reluctant to be attached to a story involving the Serious Fraud Office.
"I think there’s also been a reduction in the number of unit bases in London because of the pressure towards development.”
Persistence paid off, however, and the production managed to achieve virtually all of its goals in the capital – including finding an ideal central location for its Serious Fraud Office (the CityPoint Building, Ropemaker Street, EC2).
"Sometimes, staying in the city required a lot of ingenuity: “We have one sequence that involves a chase and an outdoor swimming pool,” says Gutierrez, “but you’d be surprised at how few outdoor pools there are in London with a building overlooking them (which was needed for the story). So we ended up using four different places to achieve the desired effect, with the swimming pool section of the scene shot at Soho’s Oasis Sports Centre.”
The show has a lot of stunt action, adds Gutierrez, “most of which was also done in London. In episode three there is a scene where a bomb goes off in a hotel. We were able to use a real hotel for that scene, the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge.”
The only section where the production team couldn’t achieve what it wanted was for a sequence where the two central characters are tied up in a ship’s hull. “We went to Tilbury for the exterior shots,” says Gutierrez, “which was amazing. But it wasn’t plausible to shoot inside a ship and we couldn’t find one that was big enough without going a long way out of London. So we built what we needed at Shepperton (a two-day shoot).”
Not to be overlooked is that the show also spent a few days shooting in India. “We shot our Indian interiors in Dagenham but we took four or five cast members to Mumbai to shoot a 2-3 minute sequence that features in the first episode. We wanted to go there to get a real sense of busy city life.”
There were challenges in shooting in India, she says, but they weren’t insurmountable. “The government needs to approve everything, so that can be time-consuming. And it’s very crowded, with lots of people stopping to look at the cameras. But my co-producer on the show, Dean O’Toole, has had experience shooting there before. And we had a fantastic local production company working with us called Kriti Productions.”
Back in the UK, production pros included access to incentives while challenges included the fact that the show was shot in autumn/winter – limiting the length of shooting days. In terms of New Blood’s ethnic profile, Stefan and Rash’s background sometimes has a role to play in the story. There are, for example, times when Stefan can go undercover as a Polish builder while investigating leads.
Bizarrely, the two lead actors, Mark Strepan and Ben Tavassoli, actually share an ethnic origin with the characters they play – not something that was pre-planned or fixed. “When I created a hero who was Polish/British and another who was Iranian/British, I never expected that we'd actually find the real thing,” says Horowitz. “But with Mark and Ben we've done exactly that. They really are the ‘new blood’ that the title promises and I'm confident they’ll make a wonderfully surprising and entertaining team.”
In terms of the show’s overall feel, Gutierrez (pictured left) says there was no need to artificially enhance the diversity of the show’s cast and extras: “We worked with a great casting director, Gary Davy. But the point is we were just shooting the London that we see.”
Gutierrez is delighted with the end result, which also benefits from heavyweight cast members such as Mark Addy and Anna Chancellor. “Everything about the way we’ve done it is fresh and colourful. It is sharply edited and we have great music from Neil Davidge, who came to fame with Massive Attack. The show has got the high production values you associate with the BBC, but I also think the style of it will appeal to the kind of audience that has been going to Netflix or Amazon for their TV.”
As to the BBC’s decision to debut the show on iPlayer, Horowitz is delighted: “We have to recognise that young people don’t watch TV the way we did and it’s very much in the spirit of New Blood that the show will premiere on iPlayer. It’s a great way to launch a show which is very much about the younger generation before we settle into our seven-week 21.00 slot.”
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