At MEDIACON on Friday afternoon I got the opportunity to interview showrunner, screen-writer and executive producer Michael Hirst and producer Morgan O’Sullivan. Together, they have worked to give us 38 episodes of TUDORS over four seasons. And are just about to go into post-production on season six of VIKINGS. The second half of season five goes to air in the US on 28th November. Michael singlehanded penned all 89 hour-long Viking scripts!
I asked Michael how he does it and does it so well!
He told me that for him, the key is in the copious research he did before beginning the series and the ongoing work his research assistant does. This deep background work suggests storylines and details. He referenced coming across information about how the Vikings would dismantle their ships and carry them over mountains and other inaccessible areas to put them back together again when they reached water. He wanted to find a way to show this ingenuity but thought it would be beyond the reach of the production. However, production designer Tom Conroy achieved just that in season one.
Michael and Morgan stressed the collaborative nature of the production, the fantastic crew. Their approach is to shoot on location as much as possible and rely on SFX and CGI as little as possible.
Morgan told me that from the beginning the aim has been to make a TV series with the production values of a feature film.
This ambition to produce a high-end look and deliver scale on-screen is one of the elements that has led to the enormous success of the series in this golden age of drama. Vikings is in the top five most viewed TV dramas world-wide.
When asked by the network (History Channel) how they would promote the series Michael said simply – Vikings. Their reputation proceeds them.
Michael concentrates on the emotional life of the characters. As he explains, his aim was to go behind the image (created by the monks – their enemy) of this ferocious, almost sub-human people and challenge all of our preconceptions. To show the personal motivations.
This authored point of view is, I believe, a key factor in the success of the series. I asked Michael how he managed one of the very difficult elements of sustaining any long running renewable series - killing off the central character. (Spoiler Alert! Ragnar dies in season four episode 15.)
Michael explained that from the start he pitched the series as being about a man and his sons. This is a series about a dynasty from the get-go.
He also spoke about his interest in the thematic exploration of religious belief systems and his fear that this might alienate audience. Happily, audience has responded really positively to this aspect of the show.
Notwithstanding Michael’s enormous talent as a screenwriter and his experience, reassuringly for the rest of us, he writes hundreds of drafts to bring a honed script that has had the input of the cast, directors and crew to air.
No wonder the series is so good – the old adage screenwriting is rewriting applies even to the best.
25th November 2018