Thursday, 31 January 2019

How "Outlander" was made

Some insights into how best-selling books sometimes make it onto the small screen........


OUTLANDER development process (from Wikipedia)

In July 2012, it was reported that Sony Pictures Television had secured the rights to Gabaldon's Outlander series, with Moore attached to develop the project and Jim Kohlberg (Story Mining and Supply Co) producing.[5] Sony closed the deal with Starz in November 2012,[6] and Moore hired a writing team in April 2013.[7] That June, Starz picked up the Outlander project for a sixteen-episode order,[8] and in August it was announced that John Dahl would be directing the first two episodes.[9] Starz CEO Chris Albrecht later said that he had greenlighted several genre projects, including Outlander, to shift the network's series development toward "audiences that were being underserved" to "drive a real fervent fan base that then becomes the kind of advocacy group for the shows themselves".[10] Calling it "a different kind of show than has ever been on, in my memory", Albrecht believed that Outlander's combination of fantasy, action, a strong central romance and a feminist focus would set it apart.[10]

Another distinguishing feature of the show is its use of Scottish Gaelic. Àdhamh Ó Broin is the language consultant[11] and Griogair Labhruidh sang in Gaelic on the second season's soundtrack.[12]

On August 15, 2014, after only the pilot episode had aired, the network renewed the series for a second season of at least 13 episodes, based on the second book in Gabaldon's series, Dragonfly in Amber.[13] On June 1, 2016, Starz renewed the series for a third and fourth season, which adapt the third and fourth Outlander novels, Voyager and Drums of Autumn.[14]

On May 9, 2018, Starz renewed the series for a fifth and sixth season, which will adapt The Fiery Cross and A Breath of Snow and Ashes, respectively, and each season will consist of 12 episodes.[4]


Outlander, Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling fantasy/romance/adventure series of books, is slowly inching to the screen. No greenlight from Starz yet, but I’ve learned that the project has opened a writers room, with Battlestar Galactica developer Ron Moore, who is spearheading the drama series adaptation, hiring four scribes to work with him. The move indicates that Starz is contemplating a potential straight-to-series order for Outlander, a route the pay cable network has taken with most of its original series. Joining Moore on Outlander are two writers who have worked with him before — Battlestar alumna Toni Graphia and Caprica‘s Matt Roberts — along with veteran showruner Ira Behr (Alphas, The 4400) and Anne Kenney (LA Law, Switched At Birth).


Sony Pictures TV acquired the rights to the books last summer and attached Moore, who is under an overall deal at the studio, to develop and write a series targeted for cable networks. The project landed at Starz in November, with Jim Kohlberg’s Story Mining and Supply Co producing.

The new logo

Hope we are not too far wide of the mark now........ thanks to Steve Mallett for the great photos.

Irish TV and film support criteria

I have grumbled many times about the lukewarm enthusiasm in Wales for encouraging or expecting -- or even requiring -- those production companies who use Welsh facilities and crews in their projects to tell the story of Wales to the world.  I have been doing some research.........

Principles & Criteria

FÉ/SI's funding programmes are guided by some fundamental principles which form the basis of the decision-making process

Developing Talent, Cultural & Industrial Priorities

Consistent with its government remit and responding to the present perceived needs of the Irish audiovisual production industry, FÉ/SI considers that certain projects, in terms of their content, provenance or benefit to the industry, represent clear priorities for its funding.

Strong preference will be given to submissions on behalf of projects which:
*are of Irish initiation in a creative sense; that is, conceived, written, produced and/ or to be directed by Irish talents
*entail new and emerging Irish talent in key creative roles, i.e. director, writer, producer, composer, principal actor
*tell Irish stories, drawing on and depicting Ireland's culture, history, way of life, view of the world and of itself

(I think we can take the above as a strong and decisive steer to project developers who are looking for funds.)

Now for Wales:

In Wales, Development Funding Guidelines


When selecting projects the following criteria will be considered:
The quality, potential and originality of the work
The benefit to Welsh filmmakers
The depic on of Welsh cultural content – Wales and Welsh life, whilst not essential this will be considered
The viability of the project in terms of budget and partnership funding and the capability of the key creative personnel
The project’s ability to qualify as a British film. Please refer to BFI website for qualification details.
The project’s market appeal. We would expect any application to clearly show an identifiable and reachable core audience and the means by which this audience will be reached.
The range and number of projects already being supported by Film Cymru Wales

(The wording here is much more vague, with far less emphasis on Welsh talent, Welsh origination, and the telling of the Welsh story.  Instead of "strong preference" we have ".......whilst not essential this will be considered."  So the Welsh requirement can, by and large, simply be ignored.)

New logo

We are in the process of creating a new logo -- this is a first draft.  It might well change -- watch this space!

This is a cooperative effort -- Model Rhiannon James.  Photographer (amazing photo!) Steve Mallett. Lettering Martin John.  Overall assembly -- me!

Vox Pictures and Keeping Faith

This is an interesting interview about how the Vox Pictures series called "Keeping Faith" came to be made -- and how it struck a chord with the viewing public.  Good to be able to report on a success story!

Thursday, 24 January 2019

A man with a mission: Robert Owen and New Lanark

Once upon a time there was a man with a mission........  Last weekend we made a short visit to New Lanark in Scotland, on the banks of the River Clyde, to see the "utopian settlement" created by Robert Owen, the Welsh industrialist, pioneer and philanthropist.  His heyday was 1800 - 1825, and if Martha had met him she would certainly have approved.

In its heyday there were five huge factories at New Lanark, all producing spun cotton on reels for the use of the growing textile industry.  Two thousand workers and their families lived on the site, in large housing blocks.  They had just one room per family, but lived in vastly better conditions than the majority of other mill workers in the UK, with free education, access to walks and parkland, cheap food supplies, medical care and many other benefits.

The site is now a World Heritage Site, attracting around 400,000 visitors per year.

Here are two entries from Wikipedia:

Robert Owen (14 May 1771 – 17 November 1858) was a Welsh textile manufacturer, philanthropic social reformer, and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. Owen is best known for his efforts to improve the working conditions of his factory workers and his promotion of experimental socialistic communities. In the early 1800s Owen became wealthy as an investor and eventual manager of a large textile mill at New Lanark, Scotland. (He initially trained as a draper in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and worked in London before relocating at the age of 18 to Manchester and going into business as a textile manufacturer.) In 1824 Owen travelled to America, where he invested the bulk of his fortune in an experimental socialistic community at New Harmony, Indiana, the preliminary model for Owen's utopian society. The experiment was short-lived, lasting about two years. Other Owenite utopian communities met a similar fate. In 1828 Owen returned to the United Kingdom and settled in London, where he continued to be an advocate for the working class. In addition to his leadership in the development of cooperatives and the trade union movement, he also supported passage of child labour laws and free, co-educational schools.

New Lanark textile mill

In July 1799 Owen and his partners bought the New Lanark mill from David Dale, and Owen became the New Lanark mill's manager in January 1800.  Encouraged by his success in the management of cotton mills in Manchester, Owen hoped to conduct the New Lanark mill on higher principles than purely commercial ones. David Dale and Richard Arkwright had established the substantial mill at New Lanark in 1785. With its water power provided by the falls of the River Clyde, the cotton-spinning operation became one of Britain's largest. About 2,000 individuals were associations with the mill; 500 of them were children who were brought to the mill at the age of five or six from the poorhouses and charities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Dale, who was known for his benevolence, treated the children well, but the general condition of New Lanark's residents was unsatisfactory. Over the years, Dale and his son-in-law, Owen, worked to improve the factory workers' lives.

Many of the workers were in the lowest levels of the population; theft, drunkenness, and other vices were common; education and sanitation were neglected; and most families lived in one room. The respectable country people refused to submit to the long hours and demoralising drudgery of the mills.

Until a series of Truck Acts (1831–1887) required employees to be paid in common currency, many employers operated the truck system that paid workers in total or in part with tokens. The tokens had no monetary value outside the mill owner's "truck shop," where the owners could supply shoddy goods and charge top prices.  In contrast to other employers, Owen's store offered goods at prices slightly above their wholesale cost.   He also passed on the savings from the bulk purchase of goods to his workers, and placed the sale of alcohol under strict supervision. These principles became the basis for the cooperative shops in Britain, which continue in an altered form to trade today.

Pandy -- a smuggler's pub?

Pandy, one of the most delightful spots in the neighbourhood, features here and there in the 8 novels of the saga.  There are two ruined buildings -- a ruined cottage (with nearby ty bach) beside the track, and another -- more ruinous -- below the point where the track bends sharply.  That must have been the pandy itself, for there are traces of walls, an old pond, and a leat.   I have always wondered when it stopped working as a pandy or fulling mill, and when the cottage was finally abandoned.  It looks as if it has been derelict for centuries........

But during a convivial evening yesterday, I was talking to Dillwyn Vaughan from Llannerch, and he said that his father (who would have been alive in the early 1900's) remembered the cottage being used as a "smuggler's inn".  In other words, it was used for the sale of smuggled alcohol, presumably brought in by sea.  It was probably safe from the customs officers because of its extremely remote location.

More research needed.......

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The raven and the story

We have spent much time over the years in mulling over the significance of the raven in the Angel Mountain stories.  The bird is of huge significance, acting as an oracle and a "spirit guardian" to Martha -- and in effect acting as the angel of the mountain........

The raven -- in a slightly enigmatic fashion -- will also appear in the 90-second video teaser on which we are working. 

The association of the raven with death is highlighted in an old song which comes from the thirteenth century in Scotland, which was apparently first written down in the sixteenth century.  Since then it has been modified, translated, re-worded and set to music, with the most popular version by the Pied Pipers using a Breton tune.

One version of the words is this:

As I was walking all alone
I heard two ravens call and moan
One unto the other did say
Where shall we go and dine today?

When I first heard it, I thought the words were "Where shall we go and DIE today?"  That doesn't make much sense in the context of the song -- but in those modified words there is a flash of inspiration!  Why should one spirit raven, in a world in which the bird itself is a symbol of death, not say to another "Where shall we go and die today?"  In the spirit world death is after all ephemeral, associated with transformation if not transfiguration, and of course this fits into the Christian belief system as well.

I like the corrupted version, as it opens up a simple tale (assumed to be all about the futility of war) and sends it off in quite another direction.......

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Outlander, Poldark and Angel Mountain

A number of people have recommended that we take a look at Outlander on Netflix -- on the basis that it might give a pointer to what Netflix is currently looking for in the way of dramas.  So we took a look the other evening -- and it really is a very strange drama.  It involves a time-warp, in which the heroine (Clare) is miraculously transported back from the twentieth century to the Scottish Highlands at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion.

What on earth is its genre?  Nobody seems to know -- and maybe that is why it has intrigued viewers and garnered a sizeable and faithful audience.  Accidentally, when we thought we were embarking on the series with the very first episode, we ended up looking at the first episode of Series 3 -- and we were very confused.  Right at the outset, there was a prolonged and very bloody recreation of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, with a great deal of very explicit and graphic violence and blood everywhere.  Two stories were going on in parallel, with much cutting from the one to the other.  But there was no contact at all between Claire and Jamie, the heroine and the hero.  She was getting on with an unhappy life with her husband (and having a baby) in America in 1948, and he spent most of the time behaving like a feral zombie, deeply traumatised by events during and after Culloden.

This is about the Outlander franchise:

So what is Outlander?  Science fiction?  Fantasy?  Adventure?  Romance?  Costume drama?  Soap opera? Historical time-travel fiction?  A modern drama with a historical quirk, all about women's rights and female empowerment?  From the very explicit sex scenes, it might even be seen as soft porn -- and the graphic violence verged on the pornographic too.  It's well written and well acted, with a very strong female lead -- but one expects at any moment that Dr Who might suddenly turn up, or maybe just a spaceship containing strange aliens.  In its own peculiar way, it seems just as wacky as "Game of Thrones."  It does not have dragons and magical monsters yet -- but you never know.......  Still to come, Claire and Jamie get involved with piracy and the slave plantations of the West Indies and South Carolina, and then become pioneers in the land of the Cherokees.  Then in the 1970's, daughter Brianna goes through the stones and gets transported off to somewhere or other.  This all appears to be getting very messy, and one wonders what focus the story might still have after being turned into a rambling family saga with multiple locations across space and time.  Time will tell, as they say........

Series 5 and 6 have now been commissioned, with 12 episodes in each series.  Series 4 is just starting on Netflix, and thus far 55 episodes have been made.  It begins to look like a semi-permanent fixture on streaming TV -- bearing comparison with Downton Abbey, the Crown and Game of Thrones.

And how about Poldark?  Four series down, and one more to go.  There have been 35 episodes so far.  Produced by the BBC and written by Debbie Horsfield from the Winston Graham novels, it has become a staple part of the TV diet since 2015, and the BBC promotes it heavily as one of its most popular dramas -- but its move from winter to summer scheduling has led some to conclude that its popularity has been substantially lower than the BBC had hoped.

Right now we have "Les Miserables" on the BBC, adapted by Andrew Davies from Victor Hugo's mammoth novel  -- and turning out to be every bit as miserable as the title implies -- with lashings of graphic violence and hardly any humour. Thankfully, no songs. 

A new "Pride and Prejudice" series produced by Mammoth Screen for ITV, for transmission in 2020?

And Jane Austen's last (unfinished) novel, Sanditon, has been adapted by Andrew Davies for a new series for ITV, with filming starting this spring.

And plenty more.......

So where might "Angel Mountain" fit in this great scheme of things?  Well, there is clearly an insatiable demand for costume drama both on mainstream TV  (especially BBC and ITV) and on the streaming channels including Netflix, Sky and Amazon.  I think the story has a lot going for it, with a powerful and charismatic female lead and a narrative that delves into the deepest recesses of the human psyche.  The period (Regency / Victorian)  is an exciting one too -- overlapping with the period in which the Jane Austen novels are set, and with Dickens and Wilkie Collins too.  Not to mention Victor Hugo.  One problem is that the 8 Angel Mountain novels are set in Wales, and Welsh stories are not exactly fashionable.  But that might be a useful point when it comes to USPs.......

The life story of Martha Morgan is both exciting and coherent, and for extra spice we have the supernatural element provided in particular by the ravens as the spirits of the mountain, by Martha's own premonitions, and by the activities of Joseph Harries.  Then we have a host of wildly eccentric characters, including Wilmot Gwynne, John Wesley Jumbie, Grandpa Isaac, Shemi Jenkins and Beau Brummell.  And eccentric traditions too -- including the game of Cnapan, the Mari Lwyd, Plygain and Ceffyl Pren.  And strange events that really did happen, including the French Invasion of 1797 and the Rebecca Riots around 1840.  Martha gets involved in everything -- and always gets into trouble, and always has to be rescued.  By comparison, the adventures of Jane Austen's heroines do not register on the scale.

But perhaps the USP that might register most strongly with commissioning editors and production companies is the good humour that runs through the series.  Terrible things happen to Martha and to others who feature in the stories, but the prevailing mood is ultimately positive.  Martha bounces back from every misfortune -- sustained by the love of her family and friends, whom she comes to see as her angels. She has several passionate love affairs during her life -- but it would be true to say that this is not a straight line (or even wobbly line) love story involving one man and one woman, but a story of unbreakable bonds of love between Martha and those who surround her.

Angels are maybe not all that fashionable, but the angels in this saga are all fallen, and all grubby, with damaged wings and many other imperfections.

Enough to make a TV drama series entirely bankable and ultimately popular enough to keep going for 32 episodes?  I reckon so.........

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

An iconic image for "Conspiracy of Angels"

This is a fabulous image which captures in an immensely moving fashion the obscenity and the tragedy of slavery.  It was posted on the Newport Facebook page by Mary Robinson -- and it was drawn in white chalk on a black background by her father Tom Haswell in 1977.  That was when the first serialisation of "Roots" was first broadcast on the BBC -- and Mary thinks the image was based on a "Radio Times" front cover.........

As readers will know, at the core of the story is Martha's chance meeting with a black servant called Elijah Calderon, at Keswick Hall.  She is so moved by the story of Elijah and his sister that -- bit by bit -- she becomes deeply involved in the movement for the abolition of slavery and the prohibition of the slave trade. This -- of course -- leads her into very deep and murky waters......