Storytelling and history are no strangers to one another, the former offering audiences an opportunity to connect with the past through entertainment. For some history is interesting if only because we can’t touch it, and therein TV and film offers a means of opening up the past.
Writer and producer Michael Hirst frequents the past, preferring to stay out of the present day, telling us, “For me it is the richness and the texture, which is why I don’t like writing about what I call my contemporary life, because I don’t see the richness.” From Elizabethan and Tudor England, Hirst’s latest historical drama finds him travelling deeper into the past where he connects English history with the history of the continent to contribute a thoughtful discussion of the Vikings outside of their stereotypical image.
As the cast and crew were busily shooting series three HeyUGuys sat down on the set to gauge their thoughts on series two. In a three part feature series on set special, we look at creating the past with production designer Mark Geraghty, talk to lead actress Katheryn Winnick about stepping into the past and her thoughts on the storytelling process and discuss with the cast and crew creating a long form TV drama.
To conclude the feature actor Linus Roache (King Ecbert) and creator, writer and producer Michael Hirst spoke with us about the conflict between TV and film, and how dramatically the landscape has changed to usher in a “Golden Age” for TV drama.
For a long time TV was seen as being inferior to film. But now established feature film directors are looking to work in TV. How do you view the evolution of TV?
Linus Roache: It’s a golden age; a renaissance. The scale of this show is like epic moviemaking. It is getting to that point that you are on set and there are a hundred horses and these big battle sequences. It’s not just the scope of it, but the storytelling itself. The fact you can tell a story over twenty, thirty, forty or even fifty hours is epic in itself, and within that you can take characters into places that you never could in a film.
Do you think the line between TV and film is non-existent now and where do you think it will go next? Would you perhaps like to see Vikings played on the cinema screen for example?
Michael Hirst: I would like people to see it on a big screen. All the producers see it on the big screen when it is totally finished and it bares scrutiny – it looks like a movie, and it has the production values.
When I started scriptwriting I would never have worked in TV. You just wanted to work in movies because TV had what we said were poor production values; poor acting; poor writing. But there’s been a sea change, and it’s a golden age of TV drama partly because networks have realised that if you give the power to the writers and to the show runners, then the shows are more consistent and interesting. They are not crawling with executives who f*** everything up, which they do.
All the talent is draining out of movies, and that’s because movies are temple exercises in cartoon making. There are so many cartoon characters and shows which cost a fortune to make – it’s all CGI. If you see Thor there is no real fighting; it’s just CGI. So writers don’t want to write that crap, and directors don’t want to direct it. The film movie industry is blowing up in front of them because it’s being run by executives who are like children. They think this is great, and they think Batman’s great. These are forty or fifty year old guys – it’s always guys who run the studios.
Do you think it has turned on its head…
Michael Hirst: If you a genuinely creative person and you have talent then you want to work in TV. There is an explosion of wonderful TV shows. I never thought I’d see it. Honestly this has taken me by surprise.
The scale of TV show is becoming comparable to a movie now.
Michael Hirst: Yeah. It is not like walking onto a movie set – it’s not TV anymore. There is a guy who teaches how you write scripts, a famous man. Everyone has to go to his lectures, and anyway he wrote me a very nice letter saying, “I have watched Vikings and I have changed the way I teach my course.” He said, “I always said that films are for the outside and TV is for inside. He said, “Your show fills the frame and most of it is shot outside. That is the end of my thesis.”
Feature films have always overshadowed short films, but in literature short stories have occupied a prominent place. If TV continues to evolve and embrace epic storytelling will it cast feature film as a concise and short form of the medium?
Linus Roache: I personally feel and I hope that there will always be a place for cinema, because there is something about that two hour experience. It is a work of art that you sit down in front of and you don’t go anywhere for that period of time. Even a small film like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, I am so glad I saw in the cinema and not on aDVD at home where the phone could ring. There is something about seeing that boy’s life in two hours – it is a piece of art.
But where we can go with character now, and I think it was Robert McKee who said, “Tony Soprano couldpossibly be one of the greatest characters ever written in any literary form, because that’s eighty hours exploring one man – his psyche, conscience and soul.” You read Tolstoy and it’s a thousand and odd pages, but that’s only about two seasons. So on a show like this when you are dealing with epic storytelling and huge stakes for the characters, in which you even bring in a spiritual and mystical dimension that is all woven in there, then over that period of time you can absorb something in a way that you couldn’t quite do in two hours. So I think it is probably what the novel was in the Victorian era… Binge watching [laughs].
But hopefully everything can be preserved and have its place?
Linus Roache: I wonder what will happen. TV is already starting to get the big budgets, but what will happen when it starts to get insane budgets? What’s going to happen then? You tend to think well this is it – there’s nowhere else to go. But if they are making movies for $200 million and they start making TV on that scale, then what’s going to happen? But it is exciting times.
Click here to win a copy of the show
Vikings Season 2 is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 3 November with interactive features only available on Blu-ray from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment