EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Chris Chibnall on Broadchurch, Doctor Who and The Great Train Robbery

“There’s a story I want to tell, which I’ve wanted to tell right from the start. I would have been gutted if I was unable to tell that story”.

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With the DVD release of ITV / Kudos drama, Broadchurch this Monday, here at Inside Media Track we caught up with creator and writer Chris Chibnall (who coincidentally was in his writing office – no hints as to what project though) to discuss series two; the amazing success of the first series; his new project, The Great Train Robbery and if he will be writing any more Doctor Who episodes.

Thanks to all those who sent questions for Chris on twitter, unfortunately he was unable to answer some of them due to the secrecy surrounding series two but we still managed to squeeze a few in. Read the interview below:

Congratulations on the success of Broadchurch – now it’s had a bit more time to sink in how does it feel?

It’s really mad and none of us expected it at all, so it’s been a great big exciting surprise.

Are you tempted to analyse the success?

No I don’t think you can analyse success at all. From my point of view we feel proud of the show and I’m delighted that people responded to it. The success is something that happened that I have no control over, whereas the writing and the making of the program is something I have control over, that’s the thing.

We had a great team, everybody performed at the top of their game, amazing director, amazing cinematographer and designer and really really amazing cast and I can’t say enough good things about that cast. People loved them and that’s why people came I think.

Did you have any choice in the casting?

Yes I’m across all the casting because I’m Executive Producer as well. I stick my nose into everything, sort of curate the show really which means with all these brilliant people we continually have great conversations about what the show is and how best to make it and how it all fits together as one vision. So yes absolutely, I was across all the casting from first to last.

You mentioned on twitter that it was only ever intended as a spec script so how did it lead to commission?

I wrote it as a spec script, almost as a spec pilot if you like, so the first episode of a serial. The point about writing it on spec really was just about doing it for myself and to really do something I had complete control over so that when I took it to people I was very clear about what the show was – and that was what happened with ITV and Kudos, I took it and showed them some storyline, some images and it was very easy to explain what the show was once you’d read that first script and I’d shown a few images. So it was all about that really. In a way it’s about communicating the essence of the show really early on so that people can buy into it.

Was it always going to be Joe?

Yes from the moment I wrote that very rough first draft. I wasn’t sure if it was then and then literally the day after I’d finished it – and this is before I’d showed it to anybody else – I woke up the next day, I just went “Oh my God” lightbulb moment, and from then on it was always him.

The most common question people were asking is: Are any of the cast – particularly David and Olivia returning for series 2?

I can’t tell you anything about series two and I’m sure loads of the questions are about that. Everyone’s just going to have to wait I’m afraid.

@Bexxx1983 wanted to know: What made you choose Joe?

Because it made it Ellie’s story, which was really important and it was always the story of two families then. It’s not just about one set of victims of the murder but actually the piece as a whole investigates how that murder makes victims of the whole community in all sorts of different ways. Some of them are able to deal with that and recover from that and build something from it; for some people it means they’re destroyed by that so I wanted to look basically at a whole set of characters affected by this one devastating event and the different effects it had on people, so It really made sense of that and played straight into that central idea.

In a way it was never just a whodunnit this show, it was about what does it mean when an event like that happens? And how does it affect people? And what would it be like really to live through that?

The characters were definitely a draw for a lot of people.

I hope so, because how I talked about it from the start was it was a character-driven piece. That was the point of having such a large ensemble of characters, and actually you would see a number of different perspectives and points of view. You should feel every time a character comes in that you’re interested in their story, so it isn’t just a simple police procedural – in a funny way, there’s very little police procedural in Broadchurch.

How did the cast react when they found out? Had any guessed?

Some of them had worked it out. Some of them had thought it was somebody else. It was a variety of responses to be honest and I think what was great, was that everybody really got behind that final script.

It’s easy to say what you’re trying to do, but I think once you understand where that final episode is going hopefully it makes sense of that final decision. It was always about the aftermath of the reveal not just the reveal itself.

They were all great, the thing about that cast is they were so wonderful from start to finish and worked so brilliantly as a team and they really got on board with the idea of what we were doing and bought into it, and really, I just adore all of them.

Was it a painful wait for you waiting for everyone to get to the reveal? Or is it more exciting to see people’s theories on twitter and the like?

That’s an interesting question. It wasn’t painful. I was on twitter a little bit, I wasn’t sort of seeking out all the theories because in a way it took us a little while to realise what was going on and how much chat there was about it. My job really was just to make sure that people knew it was on and to remind people.

I wasn’t really looking at the theories and things like that. I was just delighted that people were still watching, that was exciting, and a sense that people are watching and enjoying and loving the actors. So that’s sort of about as far as I went with it really.

So many new dramas are now shown over consecutive nights in what they class as ‘Event TV’. Would you have been happy for Broadchurch to be shown in that way?

What was interesting is that it was never really on the cards. Right from the start Peter Fincham (director of programmes for ITV). He very much understood it needed to be once a week. He was really keen on that. He agreed with what you was just saying, [I mentioned I preferred the anticipation of weekly episodes] if you’d stripped it every single night, It would have felt less exciting. What I think has happened is that deferred gratification has become part of the pleasure of watching the show.

The thing is that we’re all used to boxsets, Netflix and instant On Demand things and having to wait, and everybody on the show kept the secrets which I thought was really magnificent of them. I’m so grateful to everyone on the show and ITV. It felt like you didn’t know what was coming, and perhaps that’s slightly rarer in drama these days than it used to be. The whole point of the story is you don’t know what’s coming next, and you have to wait and that becomes part of the pleasure of it in a funny way.

I think people are able to speculate. The great thing is the gap enables the conversation whereas If you had done them in four days you probably wouldn’t have had that kind of rising tide of speculation and discussion, so I really give a lot of credit to ITV for the way they handled the show. I thought they handled it absolutely perfectly, they did such a great job, all the departments from marketing, press, scheduling, online, they really got behind the show and placed it so brilliantly and enabled it to connect with the audience.

Do you feel a pressure to keep the same level of suspense and intrigue for a second series, with what now must be filled with high expectations?

Not really, more than anything I feel excited. I feel really excited. I feel it’s a privilege to be able to do more. There’s a story I want to tell, which I’ve wanted to tell right from the start. I would have been gutted if I was unable to tell that story, so I feel really excited and either way I’m just going to go about the second series the same way I went about the first and I’ll be working in the same way, working with the same people behind the scenes. So it’s very much a chance to keep that same process going. Our brief has never been to have ratings or to play for ratings, our brief as has always been to be as bold and creative and as authored as possible, and that belief remains the same. That’s what l’m gonna go with and I’m just gonna have some fun.

Did you always intend for a second series?

Yes, always intended to from the very first meeting when ITV green-lit the first series and I said to Peter Fincham and Laura Mackie who were both at that meeting, “If this batch of eight episodes went down well we could do this story afterwards” and I told them about that and that’s the story were now going to tell, so it’s always been in my head.

You’ve written five ‘Doctor Who’ episodes, and rumour has it you’ll be writing more for the next series is that right?

Only if the schedules work, it’s a really banal thing. If the filming schedule works and it works with my schedule for doing Broadchurch then I’ll do one. If not, Broadchurch will obviously be my priority.

Jeff (@the_knights87) on twitter wanted to know: If you were offered the role of ‘Doctor Who’ showrunner would you take it?

No I don’t think so. I really love what I do. I do a variety of stuff and I do the single films as well. I really love what I’m doing at the moment. Also Steven [Moffat] is in place and doing an amazing job and I don’t think Stephen is going anywhere.

There does seem to be lots of new showrunner rumours with various names mentioned.

I bet nobody has put that question to Steven [laughs], It certainly never comes up. He’s planning. He’s planning series eight and he’s got great plans. It’s a bit premature at the least. He’s not going anywhere, he’s doing a great job. Steven is full of ideas.

It must be very different writing ‘Broadchurch’ compared to ‘Doctor Who’. Are you told what to write in Doctor Who or do you choose?

It can vary to be honest; Dinosaurs On a Spaceship Stephen gave me the title and then said “off you go” which is really terrific and was a lot of fun to do that. And then, The Power Of Three he just said I want an episode which is a year with Amy and Rory and I came up with everything else in that.

Often he’ll have a sense of some vague territory or some specific little thing that he wants, he’s great and is always open to ideas. He’s very good to work for.

How’s production on ‘The Great Train Robbery’ going?

The second film is just shooting at the moment I’ve just seen a cut of the first film which I’m really pleased about. Two, ninety-minute films exploring two different perspectives on The Great Train Robbery. One from the view of Bruce Reynolds, the leader of the robbers and how he put together the gang and organised the heist, and then the second is with with Jim Broadbent about Tommy Butler who’s the head of the flying squad investigation and how he put his team together and how he tracked down the robbers.

I really love doing these…It’s a bit like United the film I did with James Strong and David Tennant about the Busby Babes – films about big events in British history but told from quite intimate perspectives – and I think drama can really take you inside those events. You can see the details which is quite exciting.

When can we expect to see it on our screens?

I hope sometime later this year. I’m not sure when, but hopefully later this year.

Broadchurch Series 1 DVD is released to buy on Monday 20th May.