Monday, 11 February 2013

Exclusive Interview with Derek Producer, Charlie Hanson

I’ve had the honour of interviewing the critically-acclaimed producer of Derek, Charlie Hanson, who has given me an eye-opening and honest insight in the making of the hit Channel 4 show. Charlie’s career has spanned more than two decades and with a back catalogue including Desmonds, Birds of a Feather, Chef, The Harry Hill Show, Extras, Cemetery Junction, Life’s Too Short and now Derek, I was very excited to hear his views.

Acclaimed Producer, Charlie Hanson
Charlie Hanson is a celebrated British producer, having worked on the BAFTA award-winning film ‘A Way of Life’ and winning a Golden Globe in 2008 for the ‘Extras Special TV Movie.’

Charlie Hanson produced Life's Too Short
Charlie needs no introduction from me, so with Derek on our screens and in our minds, here’s what he had to say:

You’ve worked with Ricky on numerous projects to date, how did you meet and form such a successful relationship?
We met very casually whilst he was filming The Office and I was filming The Sketch Show at Teddington Studios. Soon after I met him at a couple of Award Shows. Soon after, Stephen Merchant played a chef in an episode of Garth Marenghi and a few months later Ricky rang me and asked me to meet him and Stephen. We met in a cafe and they told me their idea for Extras and asked me if I would produce it. Of course I said yes. A few months later they sent me the first script and I went to the BBC with it.

Extras - a Gervais/Hanson success (Image: BBC)
After Life’s Too Short, Cemetery Junction and now Derek, is it fair to say that you and Ricky share the same creative vision?
We both want to make the best quality shows, but as a producer my role is to create the best possible environment for Ricky's vision to come to life. This includes finding the best cast, crew, locations. This is what I would do on all my shows. It just happens that I do more with Ricky than most. He has a wealth of ideas he wants to make, and I enjoy helping to get them made.We share the view that you have to surround yourself with the best talent, work hard, but enjoy the work. We always have a happy set. There's no point in suffering whilst making a show.

With the controversy that surrounded Derek, did you ever question partnering Ricky on this project?
Never. Ricky was always clear what Derek would be about. Of course we expected controversy, but Ricky would never create anything that he wasn't prepared to defend. We took a lot of care over making Derek and are very proud of the results.

What do you say to those people who still think it is made in poor taste?
Taste is a very subjective thing. We can only produce work that we like and find funny. Of course we can't expect everybody to like it. There are plenty of comedy shows that I don't like, but I wouldn't challenge anyone not to make them or show them.The sad thing is that some people made their mind up about Derek before the pilot aired. Fortunately it is building in popularity now, and those who don't like it can watch something else.

Derek has received a huge amount positive press and encouraging reviews since episode 1 and with the hotly anticipated episode 6, heavily promoted by Ricky on Twitter as his crowning glory, can we expect to see a series 2?
We hope and expect to make a second series, and certainly the reaction so far, after only two episodes, will encourage that. And yes, episode 6 is an amazing finale to the first series, with excellent performances from Karl, David Earl, Kerry Godliman and Ricky. I can watch it over and over and am still very moved.

Getting the blend between original comedy and emotive drama must have been a huge challenge. This is where the show succeeds very well and has earned its acclaim. Was it difficult to get the tone just right?
This is what Ricky does so well. The scripts evolved over several months and by the time we filmed them they were longer than we needed. A Channel 4 half hour is only 23.5 minutes. So the editing was a crucial time. The drama and poignancy was always there, and there were plenty of funny moments. In a sense it is a comic drama.

Were you surprised at how good an actor Karl is?
No. Karl just had to be natural. Again Ricky knows Karl so well, so he wrote a character that suited Karl. At first Karl was nervous but as time progressed he began to enjoy it more. He spent a lot of time watching the other actors too.

Karl Pilkington as Dougie (Image: Channel 4)
Working with a group of comedy actors must be great fun, but can it also be frustrating?
It is great fun. And I don't find it frustrating at all. It would only be that if they didn't convince as actors.

How did you first get into comedy production, was it always your aspiration?
I always wanted to direct and I was a theatre director doing new plays for 5 years before I had a call out of the blue from a Head of Comedy at ITV. That led to me creating a sitcom for Channel 4 called No Problem! and then to producing and directing Desmonds.  I was then asked to direct Birds of a Feather.  Up till that point I had no particular ambition to work in comedy, but I went on to work with comedy performers like Harry Hill, Lenny Henry (Chef), Garth Marenghi...

Your career as an acclaimed TV and film producer has spanned more than two decades. Is there a particular highlight you are most proud of?
I am fortunate to have had several proud moments in my career. The success of Desmonds, the Extras Finale Special, my first film "A Way of Life" when Amma Asante, who wrote and directed it, won a BAFTA, and now Derek which I am very proud of.

Fans all love and remember hit Channel 4 comedy, Desmonds
How have you managed to ensure that your productions are cutting edge and current as entertainment culture evolves?
I go to see new writing in the theatre and new comedy acts regularly. I have always believed that whilst I may be working with well-known performers and hit shows, it is vital to be developing new ideas with new talent. I really enjoy working with new talent too and it keeps me fresh. Fortunately Ricky also recognises new emerging talent too and likes to bring them on board.

You must be inundated with project proposals, how do you choose your next?
It is always dependent on the characters and script. That comes first for me. I can spend ages working with someone as they develop drafts of the script. Once I believe the characters and like the idea, you then need time to add layers.

Does the world of online piracy worry you with regards to the future of the entertainment industry? What is the biggest issue affecting your work today?
Of course piracy is a threat, but I just get on and make content and rely on others to protect the work.  The main changes over the years are the layers of bureaucracy at places like the BBC that slow down decision making. That affects newer talent breaking through more than the likes of Ricky and I though.

After Derek, what can we hope to see from you next?
I start filming a one hour special of Life's Too Short with Ricky and Stephen on Monday.

With such a fantastic catalogue of shows, what are your aspirations for the future?
To continue making shows and films that I like. I have a couple of film projects in the pipeline and they can take time, but are rewarding once they get made.

I would like to give my extra special thanks to Charlie for taking the time to answer my questions and I wish him well with all his future projects.

© M. A. Sibson
Twitter: @tadpole_hitler

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