TBI In Conversation: Vertigo Films’ Allan Niblo on ‘Bulletproof: South Africa’ & the UK prodco’s TV push

Ashley Walters & Noel Clarke in ‘Bulletproof’

TBI’s Mark Layton talks to Vertigo Films co-founder Allan Niblo about Sky One crime-drama Bulletproof: South Africa and the company’s expanding TV slate.

London detectives Pike (Ashley Walters) and Bishop (Noel Clarke) return to British screens this evening, with the premiere of Bulletproof: South Africa, a three-part special for the Vertigo Films-produced crime-drama series.

The show, which will debut on Sky One and streaming service NOW TV, has moved its action from the streets of the British capital to filming on location in South Africa for this latest series.

For obvious reasons, shooting internationally during 2020 was far from smooth sailing for most productions, but Allan Niblo, co-founder of UK prodco Vertigo Films and executive producer on the show, tells TBI that while cast and crew adapted to PPE and other safety measures, they profited from some very lucky timing. “We wrapped a day before official full lockdown. Literally one day, but we got it in the bag.”

Bulletproof: South Africa follows the detective duo on a holiday that proves far from relaxing when they become embroiled in a kidnapping case – and things go from bad to worse when they are implicated in a murder.

This is the third outing for the characters, with a fourth season having just been commissioned and due to enter production later this year. Niblo credits a large part of the show’s quick wit and popularity to the dedication of its creators and stars Walters and Clarke.

“I really love it when you see the passion in Noel and Ashley on the set. They analyse the scripts in the morning before we film,” he says. “They’re very methodical about what their characters would say and do and it’s such a joy to see that even under the pressure of shooting days that they’ll always find the time to carve that out for themselves. That’s where all the juicy one-liners come from.”

Allan Niblo

Picking partners

Vertigo Films also produces the historical fantasy drama Britannia, in association with Neal Street Productions and Sky Studios.

Originally made for Sky Atlantic and Amazon Prime Video, the prodco has also partnered with MGM-owned cablenet Epix for the third season, which is set to be delivered later this year, despite suffering a break in filming due to the pandemic.

Niblo describes such co-production partnerships as “vital” and explains: “It makes you collaborate on the content and makes you think about it much more internationally; what they need and how you can accommodate that to grow a global brand rather than just a UK brand.

“But also in terms of just sharing a risk, with the enormous sums needed to get high-end drama TV away, it’s become essential really to find good partners.”

Bulletproof and Britannia are currently the only two TV productions that Vertigo has on air, with the company perhaps better known for its feature film output, including titles like The Football Factory, Monsters and Bronson – Niblo equates movies as being like sprints while “when you’re doing 10 episodes of Britannia, that’s a marathon.”

However, this is about to rapidly change, with Vertigo currently focused on substantially expanding its TV offering. The company recently partnered with fellow UK prodco Blazing Griffin to developed a scripted drama based upon Antony Baxter’s 2011 documentary You’ve Been Trumped!.

The original film was broadcast on BBC2 in the UK and followed the attempts of Scottish locals to prevent the construction of a luxury golf course on a nature reserve by today’s outgoing US President Donald Trump.

Britannia

Niblo says that they are currently in the process of attaching and writing talent to the project, with those details to be announced “quite soon”, while many more TV productions are in the works at Vertigo.

“We’ve got a really busy slate; we’ve got about 20 projects in advanced development,” he reveals. “We’re obviously shooting Britannia and the new season of Bulletproof later this year, and we’ve got another couple of shows that are greenlit, which will be announced soon as well, also filming this year. Four high-end TV shows, it’s quite a busy year coming up.”

With the new slate including both fresh and returning IP, Niblo says that there are “clear opportunities” for both, so far as his conversations with broadcasters have gone, adding that there is “definitely a thirst for new IP.”

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