Jane Tranter relocated to the West Coast of the US almost three years ago to run BBC Worldwide Productions, the LA-based production company owned by BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the UK public broadcaster. A controller of drama commissioning and latterly controller of fiction at the BBC, Tranter has a distinguished track record in drama and is now building the BBC’s production credentials in the US.
TBI: Was this deal a no-brainer for BBC Worldwide Productions and BBC Worldwide?
JT: While making Torchwood we were having a lot of meetings and began developing other things. In February or March we were talking about a potential project that was being put together and Chris asked whether we would be interested in some kind of production and distribution deal, to formalise what we were doing.
I didn’t know right away if [BBC Worldwide Productions’ parent company] BBC Worldwide wanted to be in that kind of deal, but I knew that in scripted it is difficult to have the kind of stability that the agreement offered if you want to deficit finance and own rights. Starz said that these projects would be ten episodes and that they didn’t have to have a pilot. ‘Pilot’ is a filthy word to any distributor looking at this kind of deal. So ten episodes, no pilot and a willingness to work with British writers and shoot in different places meant that it made sense.
TBI: How many ideas are you developing?
JT: We are tackling one series at a time. We’re doing it for Starz to have variety in what they do; they don’t just want the stuff that we are making. There are a very small number of projects in development. We don’t want a huge beauty parade of ideas, I think that says that you don’t know what you want to present.
TBI: You seem pretty certain about what the first project will be. You, and Starz to an extent, are known for period and ‘deep history’ pieces. Will it fit that mould and, if so, why the focus on the past?
JT: The first one will probably be a period piece. Starz is bold and ambitious when it comes to period and was ahead of the curve on that. When I was walking around with a bonnet muttering about Little Dorrit, people said ‘whoa’. But Mad Men, Spartacus and Rome have been influential in showing different ways of making period drama.
‘Period’ means different things from channel to channel, but when done properly can tell a great story about the way that we live now without feeling ‘good for you’. It’s so different from the way we live now, it’s no different to creating a fantasy world.
TBI: Torchwood: Miracle Day was shot in LA, do you anticipate going further afield to film new projects?
JT: Game of Thrones was shot in Ireland, Spartacus in New Zealand, Hell on Wheels in Canada and Boardwalk Empire in New York: I’m fabulously open-minded about where each project is shot.
It’s opening up for producers in that respect, there are wonderful tax breaks for TV, except in the UK, which I think is shocking. Everywhere else you can get soft money and it’s a fascinating new area for producers, it’s not just about which writer, producer, it’s about where to shoot.