Archives for August 2011

The Field Of Blood: Directing the drama

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David Kane David Kane | 15:15 UK time, Friday, 26 August 2011

About five years ago Andrea Calderwood's company, Slate Films, sent me a book to read asking if I would be interested in adapting it.

Set in Glasgow in 1982, and telling the story of Paddy Meehan - a young girl working in a newspaper office - The Field Of Blood was full of detail and character that I recognised.

I'd worked as a photojournalist in the early eighties shortly after leaving art school.

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Preview of The Field Of Blood

I said yes. Being a natural cynic I imagined I'd write the screenplay and it would be passed from desk to desk at the BBC and finally languish on a shelf, all but forgotten.

Imagine my surprise when I got a call to say that it was going ahead.

The head of drama Anne Mensah and commissioning editor Ewan Angus at BBC Scotland hadn't forgotten about it after all.

Andrea asked if I would direct it.

I hadn't directed anything for nine years - not since my last feature film Born Romantic - and was quite happy working from home solely as a writer, but it was an opportunity I couldn't resist.

My main challenge was to make a period drama on a low budget.

Firstly we reset numerous exterior scenes in what would be our two big interior sets, the newspaper office and the Meehan house.

We then concentrated our design efforts on those two locations, building them so we could create exactly the look we wanted.

Jayd Johnson as Paddy Meehan and Jonas Armstrong as Terry Hewitt in the newspaper offices

Paddy Meehan (Jayd Johnson) and Terry Hewitt (Jonas Armstrong)

We discovered an old documentary, Friday's Herald, about a day in the life of The Glasgow Herald circa 1982 and set about recreating the office as it was then, with a bit of All The President's Men thrown in, to give it a little glamour.

I wanted to add the bright casino look of The Washington Post because our newspaper office had to represent a modern future to our main character, Paddy.

It was in direct contrast to the dark claustrophobic household of her religious family.

The music came from my memories of what people I knew were listening to at the time.

I felt Paddy's taste would be more masculine so we went for Gang Of Four, Elvis Costello and The Jam.

I didn't want to go for 80s songs that had been used too often.

The city of Glasgow has changed so much in 30 years. The Field of Blood might as well have been set in 1882 as far as we were concerned.

Street scenes were particularly problematic, as we had a limited budget with which to dress them. It dictated the style we would shoot the film in.

Finding the right cast was the most important element to me.

Our main character was a 19-year-old working class Glaswegian.

Chubby and vulnerable, but also smart, feisty and ambitious, she had to be attractive in a slightly unconventional way.

Jayd Johnson as Paddy Meehan

Paddy Meehan (Jayd Johnson)

Producer Willy Wands mentioned a girl he liked from River City, Jayd Johnson, but she was at drama school in New York and wanted to finish her course.

After a few weeks we still hadn't found anyone. I asked about the girl from River City again.

They gave me an episode to watch and I immediately felt Jayd was our girl. So, with a bit of padding in the right places, we had our Paddy Meehan.

I felt an immediate rapport with Jayd and her work ethic was astounding for someone so young.

She also didn't mind wearing a brown duffel coat most of the time.

Luckily I had worked with David Morrissey, Ford Kiernan and Peter Capaldi before and sent them the scripts.

Although I didn't want to pressure my friends into doing me a favour, I silently prayed they would say yes - they did.

With Jonas Armstrong, Bronagh Gallagher, Derek Riddell, Stephen McCole, Matt Costello, Gavin Mitchell and the rest of the cast in place we felt very pleased with ourselves.

Although it was a very tough schedule the filming of The Field Of Blood was a great experience.

I had a fabulous crew and we managed to finish, exhausted, but on time.

One person I haven't mentioned is Denise Mina, who wrote the novel.

Denise has been shockingly supportive to a group of people who took her book and started changing lines, re-jigging the plot, and generally buggering about with it.

She is a fabulous writer and adapting her novel was a pleasure. I just hope I get to adapt another one in the future.

David Kane is the writer and director of The Field Of Blood.

The Field Of Blood is on BBC One at 10.15pm on Monday, 29th August.

You can watch exclusive interviews with actress Jayd Johnson and author Denise Mina at The Field Of Blood programme page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

I'm one of the scriptwriters for Torchwood: Miracle Day

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Jane Espenson Jane Espenson | 12:12 UK time, Thursday, 25 August 2011

I've been a writer for American TV shows for the last 20 years, and for a British one for about a year. It's like being young again.

My name is Jane Espenson, and if you are a reader of TV "written by" credits, you might have seen that name on shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, The O.C., Gilmore Girls, Firefly, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones.

I was thrilled when Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner approached me about writing for Torchwood.

Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer, Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).

Left to right - Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer), Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman)

Torchwood was simultaneously exactly the kind of show I most like writing for, and unlike anything I'd done.

Writing for a UK showrunner, using a sort of hybrid set of rules and expectations, making a product that had to work in both places - it was amazing and new and exciting.

I got to take the journey with Russell and Julie, who quickly became friends, and with some other amazing writers - John Shiban, John Fay, Ryan Scott - and a dear friend from earlier in my career, the amazing Doris Egan.

The plan was that we would meet as a group only briefly, and then we would all be working individually on our episodes.

But the group was having so much success - and fun - shaping the overall season and collaborating on the stories, that we ended up extending the room work by several weeks.

With 10 episodes telling chapters of one big story, this turned out to be indispensible - we needed to make sure we all knew what the other writers were doing.

Episodes five and six were almost a two-parter, for example, and we had to make sure, in the room, that John Shiban, who was writing six, knew exactly where, emotionally and physically, I was going to be leaving all the characters at the end of episode five.

We all knew the show already, and we were all eager to get our fingerprints on that world.

TV writers sometimes talk about getting to play in a particular sandbox, and that felt really apt in this case.

Torchwood is a show with great characters and deep themes and so many tones and textures. We all wanted to start playing with it right away.

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John Barrowman talks about his character, Captain Jack Harkness, in Torchwood

One of the first things we discussed was how to place Jack at the center of the story.

It was an early decision to reverse his immortality and to play him as a very vulnerable hero for this season.

Suddenly he was the one man in the world who could literally stake his life on the success of the team's actions.

Some other elements fell into place quickly. The family issues for Rex and Gwen and Esther were decided on early, while other things - like the details of the PhiCorp break-in from episode four - took much longer.

When the story breaking was done, the teleplay writing began.

Just getting to type in Jack or Gwen or Rhys as a character name in screenplay format made me laugh with delight.

This, really, is why I'm a TV writer - there is a particular joy in getting to take a character who already exists and trying to find the perfect line that reflects who they are, how they speak, but that also finds something new in them. I love that so much.

Writing Gwen was particularly challenging, of course, because of the Welsh phrasing and syntax.

I didn't do it very well, I think, in the first script where I wrote dialogue for her, but Russell fixed it, and after that I caught on.

I loved writing for her so much. Through my eyes, she is very exotic.

Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles)

Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles)

It was a little daunting, writing these iconic characters, but I didn't have any real fear that I would break them.

Television is a top-down kind of medium - the showrunner has total control over the final state of the scripts, and I knew Russell would correct me if anything was wrong, which he did on numerous occasions.

Thank you, Russell - you made us all look very smart.

Episode seven was particularly fun for me to write because it has a very different feel than the rest of the season.

Without spoiling too much, I think I can say that it gives new insight into Jack and Gwen.

And all of that adventure was just during the writing.

Now there's a new phase of fun as I'm getting to watch the original and the new fans of the show watch this new season unfold.

I've always loved the way genre fans like to get inside the shows, to really learn not just about the product, but about the process.

Which leads to fun things like live-tweeting, appearing on panels, and even writing this blog entry.

Jane Espenson is a writer on Torchwood. She wrote episodes three, five, seven and co-wrote episodes eight and nine.

Torchwood continues on BBC One on Thursday 15th August at 9pm.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Previous episodes of Torchwood are available on iPlayer until Fri 23 September 2011.

Watch an interview with Russell T. Davies for more insights into the making of Torchwood: Miracle Day.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Harry's Arctic Heroes: My North Pole adventure

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Martin Hewitt Martin Hewitt | 11:11 UK time, Tuesday, 23 August 2011

On completing a ski race I arrived back at the mountain lodge to publish the results on my blog and noticed an email from a friend, which was entitled "North Pole". My heartbeat raised and I became immediately excited.

For the first time since my injury I knew without hesitation that this was a challenge I wanted in on, and was prepared to do whatever it took and make any sacrifice to be a part of it.

Captain Martin Hewitt pulling a pulk

Captain Martin Hewitt pulling a pulk

I was serving in Afghanistan as a platoon commander in the Parachute Regiment when I was shot leading an attack on an enemy position.

While moving forward I was shot through the upper chest, shortly followed by a bullet in the foot.

The impact threw me to the ground and I immediately realised that the bullet had severed the artery supplying blood to my right arm and severed the nerves, rendering the arm paralysed.

I'd always looked for challenges, which is why I commissioned into the Paras, and enjoyed working under pressure in the austere conditions of the desert. I wanted to see if I could do this in the Arctic.

On returning from racing, I was interviewed in London alongside dozens of other hopefuls and invited to attend a selection weekend in the Arctic Circle that May.

I'd never seen a pulk or Nordic skis so it was all rather strange.

The selection process involved pulling a pulk over undulating terrain for two days, and camping out overnight in a tent with my new teammate Guy, who'd lost a leg in Afghanistan.

I hit it off with Guy "Maximus" Disney and the rest of the team immediately, and while the selection was challenging, I enjoyed every minute of this barren environment and the other team members.

On completion of the selection weekend I was invited to begin training as part of the team.

I was still undergoing the occasional operation on my injuries and thought that the training would help me maintain drive and a good standard of physical fitness.

Should I make it to the Pole it would not only be an achievement, but to me it would signify overcoming the injuries I'd sustained in battle.

Captain Martin Hewitt, Prince Harry and his colleagues in the arctic.

Captain Martin Hewitt walking with his team: Left to right - Simon Daglish, Prince Harry, Inge Solheim (behind), Capt Martin Hewitt, Pte Jaco Van Gass, Sgt Steve Young, Henry Cookson, Capt Guy Disney, and Ed Parker.

I've had to adapt everything since my injury - from learning to write and type with one hand (my non-dominant hand), to searching for a new career.

I'd found the greatest physical challenges to date were regaining independence in independent living with one arm.

If I could achieve that in the most inhospitable environment on the planet, it would signify overcoming the additional challenges my disability have presented me.

While I'd faced mental challenges coming to terms with the loss of my prized career, I felt that I'd maintained a strong mental robustness too, post-injury, and thought this would be a great test of that.

As the training progressed, and more people became aware of the expedition, I was getting messages from other injured colleagues stating that what we were doing was providing them with motivation to get their own lives back on track.

This was something I never anticipated at first and it had a huge impact on me. I now felt that I had a professional duty as a serving officer to ensure success in order to provide an example to others.

It was this - and the desire to achieve success - that drove me on in training.

I just had to convince my poor parents, who'd hoped I'd calm down a little post-injury, that ski racing downhill for the country and walking to the North Pole were perfectly safe. Erm...

Prince Harry in the water

Prince Harry on the Arctic Circle expedition

Throughout the expedition we worked to each other's strengths and supported each other with our injuries. This is something we found came naturally with a military background.

While there were long periods in our own thoughts walking, walking, and a little more damn walking, we'd push each other on with jokes, banter and taking the piss.

I've always found that soldiers have a slightly dark, even warped, sense of humour and that made the expedition significantly more bearable than it could have been.

On the ice I found that I was back to my old self, as this was the first time post-injury that I was part of a close team, which the expedition has highlighted I'd missed enormously.

Harry's Arctic Heroes will show the journey in more depth than I can go into here but I'll culminate by staying that we succeeded due to drive, determination, team work and a great support structure - along with a little blessing from lady luck.

Captain Martin Hewitt is a participant in Harry's Arctic Heroes.

Harry's Arctic Heroes is on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday, 23 August.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Hans Litten vs Adolf Hitler: To Stop A Tyrant

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Mark Hayhurst Mark Hayhurst | 14:43 UK time, Monday, 22 August 2011

I'd finished a BBC film about Robespierre and the French revolutionary terror and was looking for another story about tyranny, but this time seen from the point of view of someone who opposed it.

I'd always wanted to make a film about anti-fascists in Germany and Martin Davidson, the commissioner for history at the BBC, had come across the story of Hans Litten and a little-known criminal trial in 1931 in which he had subpoenaed Hitler.

Lawyer Hans Litten (Ed Stoppard) and Adolf Hitler (Ian Hart)

Lawyer Hans Litten (Ed Stoppard) and Adolf Hitler (Ian Hart)

That was news to me. Hitler being challenged in court by a Jewish lawyer bent on exposing him as a man of violence?

The desire to tell Litten's story on screen became irresistible.

Over the past few years I'd made a number of drama-documentaries on historical subjects and each time the drama element had got bigger.

It was Martin who suggested that this time I wrote a complete drama focussing on the trial itself, and then make a documentary exploring some of the wider questions thrown up by the story.

Rule one in drama is get yourself a good director.

I had that in Justin Hardy who, along with his team, has always made beautiful historical films.

Rule two is get a good cast - and the cast is great.

The scenes between Ian Hart, who plays Hitler, and Ed Stoppard, who plays Hans, were electrifying to watch as they were being performed.

The drama, The Man Who Crossed Hitler, was broadcast on Sunday evening and the documentary, Hans Litten vs Adolf Hitler: To Stop A Tyrant, is on this weekend, Saturday, 27 August.

Making the documentary as well as the drama gave us an opportunity to tell the story in greater personal, historical and political detail with contributions from real survivors of Weimar Germany and members of Litten's family.

It also allowed us to tell more of Litten's story after the trial - his arrest and torture by the Nazis, and his courage in the concentration camps as Hitler's first political prisoner.

Litten's is such a remarkable true story it felt only right to tell it not only as dramatically as we could, but also as thoroughly as we could.

This was a fascinating project to be part of and the independent research I did for the documentary - which also helped inform the script for the drama - was enlightening.

We went back to the archives in Berlin to trace any remaining official records of the trial.

Patricia Litten

Patricia Litten, Hans Litten's niece.

We traced surviving members of Litten's family to find out about his personality and his background. I read his letters and the memoirs of people who'd once loved him.

There was also an excellent scholarly work about Litten by an American lawyer called Ben Carter Hett.

By the end of my research I also had a decent handle on what this corner of left-liberal Berlin was like in the late 1920s - a modern, energetic, fast-talking town.

I had a producer, in Uli Hesse, who didn't know the meaning of the word impossible.

It's pretty tough to find people who fought fascists in the streets of 1930-33 Berlin or who knew Hans Litten - but she found them.

Two people in the documentary film are over 100, though you'd never guess from seeing them speak.

We also got superb access to those places which were relevant to the Hans Litten story - the courtroom in which he cross-examined Hitler and the various concentration camps he was imprisoned and tortured in, including Dachau.

Why is Litten's name not known today?

Curiously his name was well-known in Britain in the 1930s because he was seen as 'Hitler's personal prisoner' and there were campaigns launched over here to release him.

But I guess his name was eventually overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

When he died in Dachau concentration camp in 1938 he was one of thousands of Nazi victims from that decade.

Soon there would be millions.

Mark Hayhurst is the producer of Hans Litten V Adolf Hitler: To Stop A Tyrant and the writer of The Man Who Crossed Hitler.

Hans Litten V Adolf Hitler: To Stop A Tyrant is on BBC Two on Saturday, 27 August at 8pm.

The Man Who Crossed Hitler is available in iPlayer until Sunday, 28 August.

For more information on Hans Litten, please visit the BBC News Magazine.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Village SOS: I'm Honeystreet's Village Champion

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Sandra Bhatia Sandra Bhatia | 12:02 UK time, Tuesday, 16 August 2011

What was it that attracted me to the Barge Inn community project in Honeystreet? Along with the parallels that could be drawn between a pub and my music and events background, it was the people.

We had that immediate all-important chemistry, which I really needed because, in the beginning, the adjustment to the countryside was tough.

Even though the group were more than welcoming, I was still a good distance away from my family and friends, meeting new people in a new place, facing a new challenge, and working at a new pace.

I don't think I realised what a 24/7 commitment this was going to be. At its peak I was climbing the walls and, I have to confess, a couple of times I did contemplate doing a moonlight flit.

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Honeystreet residents explain why they want to refurbish the Barge Inn

I was the Barge Inn's Village Champion - chosen by the village to add expertise that they didn't have themselves.

Apart from the PR, marketing and promotion, which I do for a living, it was my role to help the group think outside of the box and really expand on their own ideas - along with a sprinkling of a little bit of magic to make that all important impact.

In the main, I became the negotiator and mediator between the community and the project, rebuilding age-old broken bridges, which was painstaking at times - not to mention the purpose of Village SOS, the role of the media, and The Big Lottery Fund.

It gave me emotional biceps and taught me a lot about the diversity of people and how they tick - probably the toughest but most rewarding part of my job.

But it was all worth it. In 12 months this pub has certainly become the hub - again - for the locals.

It is also the vehicle for all of the other components that will drive the community project, along with generating much needed employment - full-time, part-time and casual, voluntary and work experience.

But, as you'll see in the programme, it wasn't all plain sailing. One of the most horrific moments, when I genuinely thought the entire project was going to implode, was during the Honeyfest episode.

We needed something very big, very fast and very effective - the music festival - to turn things a full 180 degrees and amplify the message that this pub was now a great place to go for everyone.

But the fierce opposition from the locals led to a hearing with Wiltshire Council for the events licence, and we weren't certain we would get it. That would have just been awful.

A volunteer polishes the Barge Inn sign

A volunteer polishes the Barge Inn sign

My most special memory is that day of the Honeyfest launch event because it was the culmination of phase one of the project.

The buzz and the energy was incredible, with the committee, builders, pub staff, event production crew, volunteers, market traders, BBC team, and National Lottery staff all running around to get everything completed in time, all with the same objective - to make the day work.

During the festival, I looked around me and it was a magical feeling that will stay with me forever.

This experience has certainly changed how I would approach living in a rural community.

For a start, I had no idea what a parish council was until I arrived here.

Also, I learned that cups of tea and 10 minutes of effort go a long, long way in these places.

I left Honeystreet last weekend to go back to the city but I leave a thriving Barge Inn. The kitchen is constantly busy, the campsite's full, with the takings right up.

It has been an absolute honour and privilege to work with such an inspirational bunch of people who, if it hadn't been for Village SOS, I would probably never have crossed paths with.

In addition, I also have to thank the Lottery - an invaluable support network, there every step of the way - and the BBC for their understanding and patience from day one.

There are also a number of unsung heroes who do not have too much of a presence within the programme, but they are the cogs who drive the ship - they know who they are.

And I leave a surrogate family, not just a team.

Sandra Bhatia is the Village Champion for Honeystreet in Village SOS.

Village SOS continues on BBC One at 8pm Wednesdays.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

The Chilean Miners - 17 Days Buried Alive

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Angus Macqueen Angus Macqueen | 10:20 UK time, Friday, 12 August 2011

The Chilean Miners - 17 Days Buried Alive was really conceived on day 18. The miners had just been found - though not actually rescued for another 52 days - and I was rung while on holiday by Guillermo Galdos, a colleague from Peru.

He descended on the mine and has made two very good films about the miners - one about the rescue and another about what happened next - but I was always fascinated by those first 17 days when no one knew if they were alive or dead.

And, most terrifyingly, the miners were half a mile underground not knowing if anyone would ever find them.

A reconstruction of the Chilean Miners searching for a way out of the mine

Reconstruction of the Chilean miners searching for a way out of the mine

A universal nightmare we can all identify with, made worse by darkness, lack of food, heat and humidity.

Initially we thought we would never get the story because of a supposed secret pact taken by the miners not to talk about that period - and, of course, because of talk of million dollar Hollywood deals.

But quietly, and somewhat below the radar of big names, we established contact and trust with a number of the men and their families and worked out that it was possible to tell the story.

We took them one-by-one to a villa in the Chilean capital Santiago for "interrogation". Or more like therapy.

It was an intense and emotional experience for them - and us - as we took them back through the experience of those days - the fears and hopes.

It was clear - and I hope this comes over in the film - quite how deeply affected they all are by the experience.

They were workers who had gone through an extraordinary experience, and the power of the story they had to tell was, of course, made stronger by the fact they emerged as some of the most famous men on the planet.

Their simple emotional eloquence touched us all, and I hope we have captured that in the film.

Many have talked about the miracle of them getting out. They certainly, in their different ways, had spiritual experiences, from the ones who felt the devil with them, to those who found themselves blessed.

One talked of the tunnel as being his mother's womb (his mum had died giving birth to him) and that the rescue was a rebirth.

The oldest of the 33 miners, Mario Gomez

The oldest of the 33 miners, Mario Gomez

And, of course, the whole team wondered how they would have coped in such a situation, and laughed when one of the men said, "It's good that we were all workers. If there had been a professional they would have had their degree and their ego around - and egos kill."

We certainly all agreed that 33 filmmakers down a tunnel would not have survived!

The next stage for us was the reconstruction, which we did a couple of months later, down a nearby mine, high in the Atacama Desert. It is astonishingly beautiful, in a dry harsh way. We used other miners we hired in.

We decided to shoot the reconstruction on a very old film system, Super 8, which, for those of you under 30, was the older generation's way of doing home movies.

I was looking to create a sense that the material down the mine was real and caught that sense that these men had spent their time in another world.

It was tough filming. We used almost no lighting beyond that of the miners' lamps and a couple of car headlights, again to create that sense of claustrophobia that they lived through.

It was very moving working with their fellow miners - not actors - and watching them really get involved in the story and the emotions the 33 had experienced.

When we rigged up the probe - the moment they were discovered - the "actors" emotions were genuine. They really had come to identify.

But, of course, every night it was quite a relief after 10 hours down the mine in the dark, and the heat, and the dust to get out. Something, of course, the miners themselves could not do.

Angus Macqueen is the director of Chilean Miners - 17 Days Buried Alive.

Chilean Miners - 17 Days Buried Alive is on BBC Two and BBC HD at 9pm on Friday, 12 August.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Who Do You Think You Are: Researching celebrities' family histories

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Tom McDonald Tom McDonald | 12:55 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The most exciting time for me on Who Do You Think You Are? is always the last days in the run up to transmission of the first episode. This year's 10-part series has taken over a year to make, so being able to see the finishing line is a moment to cherish and enjoy.

As the executive producer on the series, I'm responsible for every aspect of the production - from liaising with the celebrities taking part, to overseeing the research for each episode, to approving scripts, to viewing the programmes as they're being put together in an edit suite.

The great thing about WDYTYA is that every episode is completely different - and when we start researching stories, we literally have no idea what we might unearth.

JK Rowling

JK Rowling, who features in the second episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

In fact, it's finding a crucial document or a fantastic eyewitness that makes the job as brilliant as it is.

WDYTYA is now in its eighth series so this year we were determined to make the casting feel fresh and new. I'm hugely proud of this year's line-up and hope you're all excited about some of the names coming up over the next 10 weeks.

I'm really pleased to have our very first artist, Tracey Emin, and our first author - probably the most successful living author in the world, JK Rowling - for this year's series.

And the rest of the cast is a roll call of familiar names, whether that's because of the music they've made, like Robin Gibb from The Bee Gees, or because of their performances on some of the BBC's biggest shows, like Len Goodman from Strictly Come Dancing, and Emilia Fox.

Casting the series is always a really exciting part of the process. We're exceptionally lucky that lots of people really want to explore their family history - and often people come to us with something particular they'd like to discover.

The hard part comes when the research begins.

Before we commit to making an episode with a particular celebrity, we do around three months of dedicated research - first building their family tree, then trying to get all the documents available relating to their ancestors.

This is a painstaking task, which often leads to dead ends and brick walls.

Sometimes, we're extremely lucky - a vital clue will simply fall into our hands. But in some cases we have to make the difficult decision to stop the research and let the celebrity know that we won't be able to make the programme.

Of course, we provide them with all the research we've accumulated - but as far as the series goes, that's the end of the story.

This means for a run of 10 episodes, we research around 30 people.

This year's series launches with June Brown - a British television icon, but also the oldest person to take part in the series.

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June Brown talks about her life, career and family

I have to say, though, that at 84 June has remarkable energy, boundless goodwill and a really naughty sense of humour.

Usually, the participants go on the journey alone, with just the crew and the director for company. June was accompanied by one of her daughters, so it really was a family adventure.

June's journey takes her from London to Holland to Spain - and she never flagged. I think she was fortified by her cigarettes - she smokes almost as many as her character Dot Branning in EastEnders.

WDYTYA can be very emotional for the celebrities taking part.

Emilia Fox was eight months pregnant when we filmed her episode and we knew that one of the stories she would encounter involved a stillbirth for one of her ancestors. We were hugely aware of how emotional - and difficult - this might be for Emilia.

Though we don't reveal anything about what's coming up to those taking part, we do always warn everyone that history has a habit of taking surprising twists and turns - and that they might not always like what they find.

The directors on the series are all hugely experienced and are especially good at dealing with these very raw situations. We never shy away from an emotional reaction, but we always make sure it's not mawkish or sensationalised.

There is a major revelation in JK Rowling's film, which could have caused her and her family considerable discomfort.

I discussed this particular revelation - and the way in which it would be revealed to Jo - with the director and series producer many, many times in the months leading up to filming.

We decided in the end that it had to be as real as possible - after all, it's Jo's journey and not ours.

We're really proud of the resulting scene, and the rest of the film, so it would be great to hear what everyone else thinks. It's certainly a heart-stopping moment and one I'll always remember from my time on the series.

Perhaps the most difficult experience I've had on the series was during last year's run when our research team discovered that Alan Cumming's maternal grandfather had accidentally killed himself playing a game of Russian Roulette.

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Alan Cumming discusses his maternal grandfather

Alan's family weren't aware of this - knowing only that he'd died in a "shooting incident".

We, as a team, felt an enormous responsibility to Alan and his mum, but we also knew that they really wanted to know the truth.

The moment of discovery for Alan was, I think, hugely shocking, disturbing and upsetting - but ultimately brought his family the knowledge they'd desperately craved.

Liz Dobson, who directed both Alan and Kim Catrall's WDYTYA, did a remarkable job. It could easily have been a very sensationalist film - but it's actually a celebration of Alan's grandfather's life.

Luckily, it's not always tears and tragedy. It's fantastic to feature stories of great triumph and heroism.

Larry Lamb's film this year is very special to me as we managed to unite Larry with a relative he never knew he had - on the other side of the world - and there's real humour in this year's series too.

Alan Carr brings a fantastic sense of fun to his episode - even when there's bad news, he just keeps laughing.

So, with 10 extraordinary stories which cover four centuries, three continents and a year of research, filming and editing, I can't wait to hear what you make of the new series - and for everyone to discover the secrets and revelations that we've had to keep to ourselves for the past year.

Tom McDonald is the executive producer of Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are? is on BBC One and BBC One HD at 9pm on Wednesday, 10 August. For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Horizon: Do you see the same colours as me?

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Sophie Robinson Sophie Robinson | 14:35 UK time, Monday, 8 August 2011

Back in April this year I was called to a brainstorm with the Horizon production team to discuss the science of colour.

It seemed like such a fun and compelling idea and addresses the kind of questions we've all asked ourselves. Do you see the same colours that I see? What if what I see as yellow, you really see as blue? And why do I fancy you more in red?

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Scientists and contributors answer the question "What is your favourite colour?"

Clearly the intelligent questions of a scientific mind... but these really are some of the questions that scientists all over the world are asking. And, as the show's director, I jumped at the chance to make this episode and find some answers.

As we looked deeper into the scientific research, the more we found that this is a world which is just beginning to be properly explored. The scientists were bright, curious, often rather quirky, and full of fascinating discoveries.

One of the first people we met was neuroscientist Beau Lotto - a master of illusions who wanted to do an experiment to find out whether people of different ages, gender and nationality see colours in the same way.

Eight weeks later, there we were with 150 people, filming the Beau Lotto colour experiment bonanza.

The volunteers took part in eight different experiments veering from whether colour had an impact on time passing, to looking at how people made different colour patterns in mosaics, to what emotions people associated with different colours - red for anger, blue for tranquillity?

The results shocked even the scientist involved. Beau found that colour really can impact the passing of time.

Volunteers were asked to stand in three different colour pods bathed in either blue, red or white light, and Beau found that blue light made time pass more quickly and red seemed to slow it down.

"Red makes us highly aware of our environment and so time slows down in your mind," he says.

Another experiment found that women who are made to feel more psychologically powerful and in control were more sensitive to spotting changes in colour illumination.

Overall it seemed that depending on the experience we bring with us, our perceptions of colour can vary from person to person.

Beau says, "In thinking about 'do you see what I see', the answer depends on what it is we're looking at. If it's something that's shaped by our own individual experiences, then we can see the world very differently."

We really do perceive colours differently depending on experience, age and state of mind.

Dr Beau Lotto

Dr Beau Lotto

Something else we found was that there were scientists looking at whether language can influence the way we perceive colour. Could the number of words you have for colour affect the way you perceive it?

The only way to find out was to go to a civilisation far from the technicolour world we live in, to a tribe who have only five words for colour, compared to the 11 essential colour categories.

The Himba of northern Namibia - who had never even set foot in a local town - call the sky black and water white, and for them, blue and green share the same word.

In having fewer words than us for colour, it seems that their perception of the world is different to ours - it takes them longer to differentiate between certain colours, and so we can determine from this that they see the world a little differently.

The tribe found us a bit of an oddity - they hadn't been filmed before - so when I played them back the footage we had filmed they thought it was the most hysterical thing they had every seen.

And what about the effects colours might have on us?

Scientists Russell Hill and Iain Greenlees were looking into the 'winning effect' of the colour red. They organised an experiment to see if wearing red might have an impact in sport.

They set up a penalty shoot out with 48 footballers looking at whether it was wearing red or seeing red that made the difference.

They found that the men wearing red had lower levels of cortisol, the hormone for stress, than those in blue or white. This in turn makes them more confident in their game.

These are just a few examples of the people we met and filmed. The whole thing was a technicolour experience that made us see the world through different eyes - and more than that, made us realise there's more to come.

This, for once, is a relatively new subject in the world of science, so there are many more discoveries to be made.

So when you get up tomorrow, look around you. Think about what colours you are going to wear and think about the colours you see - do you really see what I see? Probably not.

Sophie Robinson is the director and producer of Horizon: Do You See What I See?

Horizon: Do You See What I See? is on BBC Two and BBC HD at 9pm on Monday, 8 August.

Beau Lotto has written about how we perceive colour for BBC News.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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