Strange goings-on

Enzo and Frankie Green scream: Enzo Cilenti, Strange & Norrell's Childermass, gets presenter Frankie Ward giggling

Related Stories

First-time presenter Frankie Ward ventures behind the scenes of BBC One's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for a new BBC Academy interactive guide. Here she tells of a project that grew in scale, scope and star quality.

I nervously light a candle, puff out the match and close my eyes, murmuring feverishly. Will he be there when I open them? Gingerly I turn my head slightly, hesitantly open an eyelid and scream.

Enzo Cilenti, otherwise known as Childermass, my favourite character from BBC One's fantasy drama Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, is sat opposite me. The room erupts into laughter. Thankfully we've already captured the interview Enzo's popped by for and so, even if he did run away screaming, we had things in the can.

But how did we get to this point? Back in November, I went to see Feel Films about producing the website for Strange & Norrell, not really knowing what to expect. I'd not read the source material, the book of the same name by Susanna Clarke, but I quickly became intrigued as producer Nick Hirschkorn showed me picture after picture of concept artwork, stills and footage.

I might not have read the book yet, but I could instantly tell that the scope of the series would be ambitious and a potential game changer for the potential of visual effects on British TV drama.

Double yes

Earlier that year I'd run around London interviewing 20 comedy acts for an interactive video series called Frankie's Fringe Focus. I'd created this for a platform called Touchcast, where I could pull in videos, websites, social media and images to help me chat to comedians about their Edinburgh Fringe shows. On seeing the wealth of production goodies Nick had to hand, I couldn't resist seeing if I could get both him and the BBC on board.

With his blessing, I fired off a treatment to Paul Buller, editor of digital content for the BBC Academy, and was stunned a little while later when, in the humble Big Space of the Broadcast Centre, he told me that not only could we make it - but he was happy for me to present it too. I got a 'double yes'. I did a double jump for joy.

Stephen Chappell, Frankie Ward, Tolu Malomo and Roxy Ebrahim-Khan Team up: Stephen Chappell, Frankie Ward, Tolu Malomo and Roxy Ebrahim-Khan

In April, the StrangeCast team was formed: producer Stephen Chappell, assistant producer Roxy Ebrahim-Khan and production coordinator Toluwanimi Malomo. As someone used to running around London with only an iPad to work with, this was mind-blowing.

The team got a wealth of contributors on board, including Enzo and Nick, director Toby Haynes (responsible for that episode of Sherlock - The Reichenbach Fall), writer Peter Harness (Doctor Who, Wallander), script editor - and now BBC Drama development editor - Johnny Lewsley, the visual effects team from Milk FX and actor Ariyon Bakare, who plays Stephen Black.

Post Poldark

Given that we were producing an interactive video to educate and inspire the BBC Academy audience, one of the greatest learning curves for me was making sure I was weaning out the technical material, as well as fan-girling over the book and series - both of which I'd devoured quickly (research was a massive perk of the job). Working with two cameras and green screens, the scope was greater than I was used to and I, as much as anyone else, had to trust that I was up to the job.

One of the biggest changes from the original idea came from producer Steve, as he moved the project away from Touchcast, which would have allowed us five-minute videos with each interviewee, to creating an interactive video 'universe' using Interlude, which allowed all of our videos to be hosted within one. It meant my meagre 'let's sit in front of an iPad and bring up a few sketches' concept became 'let's make an actual programme'.

We've also spared the public the shock of seeing me scream in an actor's face, although I'll never forget the response when I asked Enzo 'how he felt about filling the Poldark-shaped hole left by Aidan Turner on Sunday nights', his reply being; 'I'd love to fill Aidan Turner's holeā€¦' (Cue silently hysterical shoulder-shaking laughter around the room.)

Ariyon Bakare Ariyon Bakare reveals the double heartbreak he experienced during the project

Amongst the discoveries, such as learning that the epic opening sequence of episode two used a duck pond and a green screen to create mighty ships made of rain, there were challenges too. I had to keep my emotions in check as Ariyon Bakare revealed the sad news of how his sister had died just before production began, with his mother passing away on the last day. He explained how the tight-knit cast and production team worked together not only to make an amazing series, but to support and bring out the best in each other too.

The last day of shooting featured no interviews, but it was possibly the most nerve-wracking moment of all - the moment I had to look into the camera and say; 'this is StrangeCast'. If it wasn't for Nick, Paul - and the amazing StrangeCast team of Steve, Roxy and Tolu - it could never have happened, and I can't thank or praise them enough.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.