Nicola Shindler, founder of Quay Street Productions, talks Mark Layton through the first titles to debut from her new firm and shares her thoughts on the state of the scripted industry
Quay Street Productions, the scripted firm launched last year by former StudioCanal UK boss and Red Production Company founder Nicola Shindler, is bringing its first series to market.
Launching at a “tricky” time amid the UK’s pandemic lockdown, in January 2021, the ITV Studios-backed, Manchester-based firm has since been hard at work to deliver the first project off its slate – fact-based drama Nolly.
The series tells the true story of British TV star Noele ‘Nolly’ Gordon, who became a national icon for her role in long-running UK soap opera Crossroads.
Helena Bonham Carter steps into the shoes of the actress, who held the spotlight as one of Britain’s biggest TV stars from the 1960s-1980s – until she was unceremoniously axed at the peak of her fame, without warning or explanation.
‘Love letter to TV’
Russell T Davies, who worked with Shindler on titles including It’s A Sin, Queer As Folk and Years And Years, has written the three-part series, which explores Nolly’s most tumultuous years and the legacy of her shocking fall from grace.
Shindler tells TBI that picking Nolly as Quay Street’s first project was an easy decision. “Russell mentioned to me that he wanted to do this story and when Russell mentions that he wants to do something you jump up and take notice.”
Nolly was “a woman who was at the absolute pinnacle of her career and then had everything taken away from her without any explanation as to why she was fired,” says Shindler.
“It just felt like such a fascinating story on a human level and a little bit of a mystery,” she explains, describing the series as “a love letter to television as well as a love letter to this incredible woman.”
“I like things that have very strong interesting women at the centre and that’s absolutely what [Russell has] written, so it was a no-brainer for me. Then when ITV came aboard, it very quickly took a momentum of its own. Once Russell wrote it, we were in production – as sometimes happens with Russell’s shows, when the time is right then you’re going for it.”
Shindler explains that Nolly is an “absolutely universal story” that she is sure will appeal to audiences outside the UK, who might be unfamiliar with the star.
“It’s the story of someone who has everything and has it taken away from them and how they deal with that. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know Crossroads; it’s about a woman who is extraordinary and how she deals with extraordinary situations.”
Not just ‘bubblegum television’
Next in line at Quay Street is Significant Other, a UK adaptation of Yes Studios’ Israeli series of the same name.
The six-part comedy-drama started filming last month, with Shindler revealing that she “fell in love” with the original after it was brought to her attention by writers Dana Fainaru and Hamish Wright.
The series follows the story of a depressed divorcee who decides to commit suicide, but, while waiting to die, is unexpectedly interrupted by a neighbour having a heart attack – sparking a most unusual relationship.
“It’s the most exceptional romcom, because it’s people who are at such a low ebb of their lives and it’s never too sweet, it’s never inevitable. You do not know what’s going to happen between these two people, because almost every interaction they have is dreadful, but you just know there is something, a spark between them that keeps you watching.”
What unites these two projects, and the kind of shows Shindler is looking to make at Quay Street, is that she considers them both to be “hugely entertaining – which is massively important for what we do, and sometimes that gets forgotten – but also they are saying something, so they are not just bubblegum television.”
Shindler explains: “There are things there that are important to say – with Nolly it’s the treatment of women at that time, but also through the ages, and with Significant Other it’s looking at loneliness and exploring how as a modern society we [live] side by side, but without ever really knowing people.”
The cost of living
Nolly and Significant Other will both debut on the upcoming SVOD/AVOD hybrid streamer ITVX in 2023, with Shindler describing the new service as “an exciting place for us to put our dramas” – though investors appeared less positive about ITV’s new digital-first windowing strategy when it was first announced in March.
Shindler believes if ITVX can establish audience loyalty with its original commissions then it can attract “both a heartland ITV audience, but also people who might not watch ITV on a regular basis,” with the shows that head to the company’s linear channels in the following months serving as a second hit.
Meanwhile, Quay Street has ridden out the pandemic wave, with UK TV production revenues now bouncing back to pre-Covid levels, but Shindler cautions another spectre is looming, with the country’s current cost of living crisis hitting the scripted industry.
“I think in terms of budget we’re being impacted in other ways, not because of the Covid backlog, but because of the cost-of-living increases. Every single thing costs more to do and make and buy, for us as well as everyone living in the UK.
“That means that our budgets are stretched a lot more and that makes it harder to make shows because the money isn’t necessarily rising at the same rate as the budget.”
And then, there is the ongoing issue of crew shortages. “The amount of drama that is being made makes it quite difficult at the moment, just in terms of getting good crews together and good HoDs. We’ve been very lucky on both Nolly and on Significant Other; we’ve got fantastic people in every role. But I know that out there it’s scary.”
There is, of course, still a big upside to this UK drama boom, notes Shindler. “People are looking for very original material and they’re looking for lots of it and there isn’t a desire to just put on what’s already been successful in the past. From every single channel, there’s ‘what’s next? How can we entice audiences?’ and that’s just brilliant for producers.”