Archives for December 2011

Great Expectations: Falling in love with Miss Havisham

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Gillian Anderson Gillian Anderson | 10:00 UK time, Tuesday, 27 December 2011

I wanted to play Miss Havisham because she's an iconic character who pervades our world in various forms. So many people have written about her or based other characters on her over many decades.

I was interested in what it was that was so appealing about her, what it is that seems to get under people's skin.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations

We're talking about a woman who is deeply, almost psychotically manipulative and potentially really psychologically damaging to Pip and Estella, the two children that we see her have this direct impact on.

There was a curiosity there for me. Also reading the scripts and appreciating the adaptation but then also going back and reading Great Expectations and kind of falling in love with her complexities.

I don't know how much of that was about falling in love with my interpretation of her, or what I was getting off the page of the script.

I've tried to remember what my innocent reader's eyes were picking up on when I first took a look at Great Expectations when I was younger and whether she still held that position for me in terms of awe, as she does now.

I have a feeling it was probably different, a very uncomfortable take I had on her really early on.

I don't know whether my ideas are based on other people's ideas of how she's been built up over time.

The bottom line was knowing that the BBC would do a spectacular production.

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Trailer: 'Your eyes have been opened... and now you cannot close them'

I think probably my favourite room on the set was the drawing room of Satis House because of the depth of it, the depth of the history, the muted colours, the butterflies, the birds and then the decay on top of all of that, the vastness, the height of the ceilings and the shafts of light just barely peeking through the windows... all of that.

I also really admired Sarah Phelps' adaptation and felt this was the one I wanted to be involved in.

Great Expectations is my favourite Charles Dickens book, because I feel like it has a humanity to it that has always moved me.

That starts at the very beginning with Magwitch being moved by Pip's bravery, of identifying the fact that this young boy is going to save a stranger by stealing the file from the one person he loves, and the person who loves him.

The heartbreak of Pip deciding to do that act and then at the last minute, grabbing a piece of pie for Magwitch.

It's recognised in that moment as Pip hands the pie over, that it also breaks Magwitch's heart.

That moment of pure innocence and humanity not only transforms Pip's life - unfortunately also in a negative way - but transforms those two human beings.

It opens Magwitch's heart in a way it has not been opened up before. It also carries you through the rest of the book, because it's a pure moment of one human being's kindness to another against everything he knows, up until that point.

I think Dickens' novels endure because there are common recognisable themes.

His characters are so complex, so multifaceted, painful and tragically human. But also he draws such interesting stories - he is a wonderful storyteller.

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Miss Havisham interrogates Pip

I am sure it also matters when somebody read the book and what their situation was at that particular time.

A lot of people I know who said Great Expectations is their favourite book are men.

Did they read it when they were pre-pubescent and feeling lost and misunderstood? Pip is feeling the awe of the wider world, the world beyond, and how Miss Havisham draws him into that, and opens his eyes and his heart, ultimately to crush it.

I can imagine being a young man, and reading Pip's journey, falling in love in a mysterious way in this magical house where you have come from the hardship of working in a forge and having lost all of your brothers and sisters save one.

And here's hope, here is a door to the rest of the world - and then having that shut and then reopened.

I can imagine that journey as a young kid, especially a young boy, must be unbelievably exciting.

It was the journey pre-Harry Potter. Of course it was longer ago, but I can imagine young people having the same kind of magical response to Great Expectations that we did when Harry Potter books first started to come out.

That's if it does get introduced at an early age, in school or through a parent or whatever and the child is able to crack the density of it.

This wasn't my experience of it. My experience of it was dipping into it here and there and probably reading most of it in my late 20s.

I can only imagine the magic of it and the immersion in that world at a younger age.

Gillian Anderson plays Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

Great Expectations starts on BBC One and BBC One HD on Tuesday, 27 December at 9pm.

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

Watch Gillian (in costume) talking further about the Great Expectations script and set.

Read an article by Mike Osborn on the 'youthful' air of Gillian Anderson's Miss Havisham.

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

Ab Fab: A minute with June Whitfield and Joanna Lumley

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Fiona Wickham Fiona Wickham | 09:29 UK time, Friday, 23 December 2011

Twenty years after the first broadcast, Absolutely Fabulous is back on BBC One on Christmas Day - in the first of three 30-minute special episodes.

June Whitfield and Joanna Lumley had a brief moment to answer some questions about the new series, written by and starring Jennifer Saunders.

Bubble (JANE HORROCKS), Saffy (JULIA SAWALHA), Edina (JENNIFER SAUNDERS), Mother (JUNE WHITFIELD), Patsy (JOANNA LUMLEY)

Bubble (Jane Horrocks), Saffy (Julia Sawalha), Edina (Jennifer Saunders), Mother (June Whitfield) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley)

What was your first thought when you were asked to make the 20th anniversary specials?
June: Hooray!
Joanna: I thought hurrah! Back with the old team again! Back to the delights of playing Patsy again!

How long did you think about it for before saying yes?
June: Two seconds.
Joanna: A nanosecond!

Twenty years on, how would you describe Edina and Mother's relationship now?
June: As ever, Eddy can't wait to be rid of Mother - but Mother is somehow always there.

What has changed and what has endured about Patsy?
Joanna: She is much the same as ever: hair, fab clothes, ghastly habits, keen on a tincture, best friends with Eddy.

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Edina and Patsy go shopping

What was the funniest moment in making the specials - on or off camera?
June: Just watching Jennifer, Joanna, Jane and Julia and the studio audience reaction - tremendous.
Joanna: Watching the others inhabiting their characters. Julia is as bad at corpsing as ever.

Jennifer is said to be generous about including new script suggestions during shooting. Did you suggest any lines to be added to the script?
Joanna: We all suggest things; Jennifer selects what she wants or leaves things at the wayside.
June: I added only one small one: "Nothing for the car boot sale then."

Are you going to watch the show like the rest of us on Christmas evening?
June: Depending on what my family is doing - I have already seen it at a special screening for the cast and crew. I fell about laughing and I hope the viewers will feel the same.
Joanna: I am longing to see them all. I'm in a play at the moment so I missed the screening and will only get to watch the shows when they go out on television.

June Whitfield plays Mother and Joanna Lumley plays Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous.

Absolutely Fabulous returns on Sunday, 25 December at 10pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. The second episode is on Sunday, 1 January 2012 at 9.40pm.

The third special episode will be aired in summer 2012 - date to be announced next year.

Fiona Wickham is the editor of the BBC TV blog.

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

Filming Lapland: The comedy and tragedy of Christmas

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Zawe Ashton Zawe Ashton | 10:00 UK time, Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Lapland covers quite touching issues that are affecting the Lewis family - like the loss of their family patriarch - and then my character, the holiday rep Jingle Jill interrupts with quite hilarious material. It's very much a comedy drama.

I remember when I read the script how moving and touching it was, it really jumped off the page.

I think Michael Wynne, the writer, is really clever. His script has the kind of themes like humour, loss and family conflict that definitely affect people over Christmas.

I was just really drawn to Jingle Jill potentially for what she doesn't say. A lot of her lines are about the tour around Lapland, "Come and see Santa at the Christmas village", that sort of thing, but there is an awful lot going on in her head.

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Jingle Jill takes the family on a quad biking trip

In one scene she admits to Stephen Graham's character Pete that she isn't having a very good time, she'd rather be somewhere far more sexy and glamorous - an 18-30 tour in Val-d'Isère.

She's a little bit like one of those shunned X Factor contestants, who can't sing but are convinced they could sell more records than Beyoncé.

I wanted to embody someone like that, especially at this time of year when all those reality TV shows are rife.

There's something interesting about those people, those contestants who are like "Sorry? What do you mean four no's? I don't understand. I'm a star, clearly! Who are you Gary Barlow? Who ARE you?"

I was creating as much of an inner life for Jingle Jill as possible, she is extremely warm and sweet, just maybe going the wrong way about pursuing her ultimate fantasy of glamour and potential fame.

She'd rather be stalking fit ski instructors in Val D'Isere than be in Lapland.

I wanted to make her as much of a three-dimensional character as possible. The director Catherine Morshead let me improvise a bit with the lines so that people at home can see Jill is a real person with feelings.

You can see that when Jill's mask slips and she admits to being sick of Lapland and desperately in search of Mr Right.

I haven't done a job like Jill's, but I used to conduct my younger brother and sister's birthday parties.

I would make the games up on the spot and the younger kids didn't clock it, they just thought they were actual games.

I learned a lot about delivery from that, as long as you're having fun, other people will have fun by proxy.

The kids had no idea that I was just making them run to various corners of the room because as long as you make it sound exciting, they'll buy it.

I wouldn't have gone for a job as a tour guide like Jill's because I'd find it hard to be so cheerful 24 hours a day.

Also dealing with the general public and lots of children takes a massive amount of skill, which I think I can do, but not for a long period. And not at Christmas!

Saying that, I Iove being cheesy. I was actually able to set free the Butlins redcoat within me. I love singing cheesy music, air grabs, air punches and I love a power ballad!

I watched lots of Butlins audition tapes online when I was preparing the role, there are some amazing singers! Much better than Jill! But what she lacks in vocal styling she makes up for in fun. Kids like her.

My audition for the part was relatively painless, as sometimes auditioning for comedy isn't. I just kind of went in and did my best.

I was recovering from laryngitis and still had this really deep voice when filming began, but it sort of worked for Jill. It sounded like she was a hard-living girl after hours, someone who drank too much reindeer wine.

Jill has some funny lines. One of my favourites was probably, when talking about the do's and don'ts of the Ice Hotel - "No contact lenses! They WILL freeze to your eyeballs and you WILL be blind for life!".

Jill's sauna scene with Pete was very, very funny, we did that in one take because we had to run out in to the woods in Norway and it was freezing!

We filmed Lapland in October/November time. It was nice being close to Christmas and getting in the spirit of it all without it actually being Christmas and feeling stressed out, which is how I feel now.

When I arrived in Norway, it was just-awe inspiring, so beautiful. We all came home with albums of photos on our mobile phones, we were like "Here's a mountain, here's another mountain, oh there's a reindeer... ".

No people, just an album dedicated to mountains, streams and huskies. I loved the huskies, I've always wanted a dog. I have a gorgeous pic of Sue Johnston with a husky, I must send it to her.

Jack (Adam Scotland), Ray (William Ash), Mandy (Julie Graham), Eileen (Sue Johnston), Pete (Stephen Graham), Liam (Ellis Murphy), Paula (Elizabeth Berrington), Melissa (Georgia Doyle), Ethan (Connor Dempsey)

Jack (Adam Scotland), Ray (William Ash), Mandy (Julie Graham), Eileen (Sue Johnston), Pete (Stephen Graham), Liam (Ellis Murphy), Paula (Elizabeth Berrington), Melissa (Georgia Doyle), Ethan (Connor Dempsey)

Working with Sue was brilliant, she's the most generous actress in the entire world.

She's so lovely, the star on top of the Christmas tree, so composed. It was really inspirational that after a career like hers, she still finds so much joy in it which is so infectious.

I've not been doing this for half as long as her and I'm already a bit moany!

Really inspirational woman. I loved her in The Royle Family. I never expected to be doing comedy really, so I don't think I ever thought I'd work with comedy actors necessarily.

Sue's able to do something really truthful and sad, and still be hilarious - a real skill. That's what moves me, when comedy and tragedy are side by side like that.

I didn't really have any expectations of what the cast would be like to work with. As an actor, you know that acting personas aren't the real person.

But it was so great to work with such a stellar cast. Stephen Graham was the sweetest man, in complete contrast to a lot of his amazing roles so far.

He adopted me as a little sister which I loved and was so generous on set with advice. Julie Graham and Liz Berrington were wonderful, we had some hysterical evenings when we were there!

Will Ash... I just want a mini Will Ash in my pocket, such a lovely man.

I was the only southerner in the cast. But I felt like an honorary Mancunian after going to drama school there, I love Manchester, I actually had a Northern twang when I came back down south after studying.

I learned so much watching all of this cast at work. And the kids were so sweet!

Filming wasn't stressful, really, with so few hours of daylight in a day in Lapland, we were against the clock but we managed it!

What was a bit stressful was having 25 Christmas dinners one day when we filmed the Christmas Day lunch - that was stressful on the brain and the stomach.

Zawe Ashton plays Jingle Jill in Lapland.

Lapland is on BBC One at 10pm on Saturday, 24 December. For further programme times please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

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

Merlin: From nerve-wracking audition to series finale

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Rupert Young Rupert Young | 12:55 UK time, Friday, 16 December 2011

As the fourth series of Merlin draws to a close I find it hard to believe it's almost three years since I auditioned for the part of Sir Leon.

I had 24 hours' notice and I'd missed the first series as I was working when it came out. So I bought the DVD and watched as many episodes as I could in the hours leading up to the casting.

I instantly loved the show and really wanted to be a part of it which made the audition even more nerve wracking - partly because I might get to fulfil my childhood dream of being a knight!

Sir Leon and Agravaine

Rupert as Sir Leon and Nathaniel Parker as Agravaine

Sir Leon started off as a very small role. I was only meant to be in one scene jousting Arthur, but at the read-through I was given a couple more lines. I arrived on the first day of filming series two, having learned my line for that day - "The King commands your presence immediately" - and when it came to my first take I fluffed it.

I managed to get it right the next take, despite my heart pounding and all colour draining from my face. There was no way I thought that two years later I would still be in the show.

I feel immensely lucky and grateful to the producers for making Sir Leon such an integral part of Camelot. I used to say Sir Leon was the Gunther of Camelot. Gunther worked at the coffee shop in Friends and would pop up sporadically in episodes like I did in series two and three. After series four I think I may have finally surpassed Gunther!

I'd describe Leon now as the rock of Arthur's Round Table of Knights, a real A* pupil of the Camelot School, a prefect - he does everything well and to the book.

He's diced with death on a number of occasions but he always manages to bounce back unscathed! I should probably thank the druids for letting him drink from the cup of life.

Leon's been wounded in many a battle, incinerated by the Great Dragon and has still managed to return to Camelot without so much as a scar. Thank goodness he's such an incredible fighter and that he has sleeves on his chain mail - if he was dressed like Percival he might not have been so lucky!

People always ask whether the chain mail we wear is heavy. It's lighter than it would have been hundreds of years ago, but it gets weighty by the end of the day.

Elyan (ADETOMIWA EDUN), Sir Leon (RUPERT YOUNG), Sir Percival (TOM HOPPER), Lancelot (SANTIAGO CABRERA), Gwaine (EOIN MACKEN)

Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun), Sir Leon (Rupert Young), Sir Percival (Tom Hopper), Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera) and Gwaine (Eoin Maken).

The most annoying thing is that it gets filthy so when you take it off, your neck is grey, as are your hands. I have so many books I've read on set which have grey hand marks all over them!

Chain mail also conducts heat and cold, so if it's a boiling day you roast and if it's freezing you freeze too - but we are Knights, after all, so I think we can live with it.

My favourite scenes to film are the big fight sequences.

Every move is carefully rehearsed and I trained in stage combat at drama school so I'm quick at picking up the routines. The stunt coordinators are fantastic, it's their expertise that makes us look so great on screen.

I remember filming the battle with the skeletons last year and having to learn a fight with the stunt coordinator. We were tussling together and then he stepped out and they filmed me fighting nobody, but pretending there was someone there.

I felt very stupid doing the moves and making all these battle cries against the thin air. I was convinced it was all a wind up to make me look silly but of course when the Bafta-winning special effects team put their magic to it I was fighting a skeleton and it looked incredible.

This Christmas I'll be celebrating with my family and, of course, will be tuning in to see the Merlin grand finale on Christmas Eve.

It is so exciting to be concluding the series the night before Christmas. My favourite episode to watch so far this series has been Lancelot du Lac as it was so exciting and dramatic but I have a feeling episode 13 is going to go out with a bang... I can't wait!

Rupert Young plays Sir Leon in Merlin.

Merlin continues on BBC One and BBC One HD on Saturday, 17 December at 8.05pm. It is repeated on CBBC, BBC Three and BBC HD. For all programme times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

The final episode is on BBC One and BBC One HD on Saturday, 24 December at 8pm.

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

Money: How I made Forty Grand

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Vanessa Engle Vanessa Engle | 10:43 UK time, Tuesday, 13 December 2011

I had the idea for Forty Grand when money was very much in the news, at the time when various MPs were in the headlines for fiddling their expenses.

I wondered if in some bonkers self-justifying way, the MPs felt they were underpaid, so I worked out how much their net income was.

Then I started comparing this with the take-home pay of other professions.

Monica and Bryan Adams and daughters: one of the families featured in Forty Grand.

Monica and Bryan Adams and their daughters are one of the families featured

I realised we all make big (often class-based) assumptions about how much other people - friends, relatives, colleagues - earn, but that actually, because money is such a taboo subject, we rarely know the truth.

As a film-maker, I felt that a TV audience would probably be as curious as I was to know how much money people actually take home, as well as to find out what people choose to spend their money on.

I had also noticed that many people (myself included!) often say they can't "afford" something (cinema tickets, childcare, smartphones etc) when what they actually mean is that it's not a priority for them and they choose to spend their money on something else (holidays, pension plans, eating out etc).

I chose the figure of £40,000 to base the programme on because it turned out to be the average net household income in homes where two adults are working - but also because it's a large enough income that I would be able to talk to people who were in the fortunate position of being able to make choices about how to spend their money.

The search for contributors with a net household income of £40,000 took a long time and involved many imaginative strategies.

I had a couple of assistant producers working with me - and between us, we must have approached literally hundreds of groups, organisations and associations.

We also leafleted all sorts of different locations around the country (shopping centres, cafes, factories, parks etc) and even stopped quite a lot of people in the street!

We were looking for people from all over the UK, so from a research point of view, it was a huge and sometimes daunting task.

The people who volunteered to take part were only ever going to be people who were willing to discuss their finances.

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Nev, who lives with wife Deana, has a meticulous accounting system.

But actually, in the course of making all three programmes in the Money series, by and large what I found was that many people are actually willing to talk about money honestly, especially if they don't have ridiculous amounts of it.

If you're spending all your earnings on paying your bills and supporting your family, you're unlikely to have huge embarrassing secrets.

Debt seemed to be the most shame-inducing or difficult subject to speak openly about.

What I hadn't anticipated was the powerful emotional moments in the film. I hadn't expected so many people to burst into tears!

But the privilege of making films like these is that you get to talk to people about things they feel passionately about in their lives, and the joy of documentary-making is that people are always full of surprises.

Vanessa Engle developed, produced and directed Forty Grand.

Forty Grand is on BBC Two on Tuesday, 13 December at 9pm. It's the third of a series of three documentaries Vanessa made called Money.

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.

Public Enemy: Prophets Of Rage

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James Hale James Hale | 10:15 UK time, Friday, 9 December 2011

If, like me, you grew up in the 80s, loved loud music and winding up your parents, there's a good chance you were into Public Enemy.

At one point they were the biggest thing in hip hop and were hugely popular in the UK with both indie kids and rock fans alike.

I was definitely one of the latter, mostly into hard rock and heavy metal. Hey, I was only 13.

Public Enemy

Professor Griff, Flavor Flav and Chuck D, with the S1Ws and Terminator X behind.

So, as a (sort of) grown up, I was very excited to find myself directing Public Enemy: Prophets Of Rage - a programme for BBC Four on these icons of popular culture.

Although it took some time to secure access to interview the key members of the group - Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Professor Griff - they were very accommodating in helping us to make this programme and I was surprised at their candour and openness when it came to the interviews.

I think (and hope) it makes for an insightful and enjoyable watch.

Like thousands of other young kids, Public Enemy were my first introduction to hip hop.

It wasn't hard for me to make the transition from metal to Public Enemy: the sheer power, energy and noise coming from a Public Enemy album was just as loud as any heavy metal band I'd heard.

Plus the lyrics weren't about winged avengers or satanic goblins - they were actually saying something important.

Of course it helped they looked and sounded cool too.

The serious Chuck D spitting righteous anger; his comedic foil Flavor Flav clowning around the stage with a giant clock around his neck.

Both backed up by the military-trained Professor Griff and his Uzi wielding security force the S1Ws. Maybe that's what was worrying my parents...

But what they didn't appreciate was the strong message the Public Enemy members were conveying.

Growing up in the leafy lanes of Warwickshire I certainly wasn't learning anything about black consciousness or the civil rights struggle from school or my peers.

It was the same for several of the contributors in this documentary - both American and British.

Rappers Darryl 'DMC' McDaniels and Method Man told us they had to listen to Public Enemy records to find out what Malcolm X was all about.

So despite all the controversy that surrounds Public Enemy I think their lasting legacy is a very positive one: they made a generation aware of racism and the need for equality at a time when the civil rights movement was in decline, especially in America.

And due to the far-reaching fingers of pop music their message connected with a white, middle class kid in a small English village. As I'm sure it did with thousands of other young fans in similarly remote places around the world.

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Preview of Public Enemy: Prophets of Rage

Having finished making the programme I think what sticks out for me most, aside from the sheer creativity of their music production, is their unwavering commitment to getting that political message across.

With the risk of sounding like a miserable old man (which I'm fast turning into I admit), it seems a world away from the bling obsessed elements of today's hip hop.

For me, a good measure of a classic band is their longevity.

Public Enemy leader and lyricist Chuck D calls his group the Rolling Stones of the Rap Game and that's exactly who they are.

They tour the world playing their extensive back catalogue to legions of adoring fans and they're still turning out quality material.

In making the documentary, we went to Montmartin sur Mer in France as this was the only place we could get an interview with Flavor Flav and some of the other band members.

I caught them playing a festival there and they put on an incredibly lively and exciting show.

They've settled on just the right combination of live instrumentation, incredible deck skills (from very talented Terminator X replacement DJ Lord) and just endless energy from both Chuck and Flav. Despite the fact both of them are over 50.

The Beastie Boys aside, there aren't many other of the older hip hop groups turning in shows like that.

Unfortunately that gig did mark one of my greatest regrets in life.

We'd just finished filming Flav's interview and he said to me and the cameraman: "We're all going for dinner and then ten pin bowling - you should come along."

Well, it sounded like an amazing opportunity but we'd been up since 5am.

We weren't going to finish until late and we had a whole day and night of filming lined up for the following day. Plus our hotel was an hour away.

So, unbelievably, for the sake of feeling "a bit tired", I turned him down. James Hale not in full effect.

Imagine going drinking, eating and then ten-pin bowling with one of the biggest names in the history of hip hop?

What an idiot!

James Hale is the producer and director of Public Enemy: Prophets Of Rage.

Public Enemy: Prophets Of Rage is on BBC Four on Friday, 9 December at 9pm.

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.

Inside Facebook: What's Mark Zuckerberg like?

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Charles Miller Charles Miller | 10:22 UK time, Friday, 2 December 2011

Everyone's first question when they heard I was working on a programme about Facebook for BBC Two, was "Are you going to meet Mark Zuckerberg?"

The truth was, I didn't know. But I knew it would be seen as a failure if we didn't get an interview.

As a director and producer, I have made documentaries about some big businesses - like Google and Microsoft - and some big characters - like Donald Trump and Lord Sugar.

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An interview with Mark Zuckerberg

But Facebook is different. Mark Zuckerberg is only 27, and he's already had a movie made about him.

The Social Network told of his rise from Harvard dorm room to world domination. What more could we say in a documentary?

Well, for a start, the movie is out of date. It's based on a book published two years ago - and in the world of Facebook, that's ancient history.

And as Facebook prepares to float on the stock market, perhaps next year, the big question is whether it could possibly be worth the $100 billion that's being talked about.

That was our starting point: as a Money Programme production, Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook looks at whether Facebook deserves those amazing valuations.

Of course, we also wanted to have a bit of fun, comparing reality with the movie.

We filmed at the real house that Zuckerberg and his friends rented in Silicon Valley: the one with the zip wire over the swimming pool (if you've seen the movie).

You'll see the New York journalist Jessi Hempel confirm in the programme that the poolside parties weren't pure Hollywood mythology.

The first she heard of Zuckerberg was when she got a call from a young guy with a lot of shouting and splashing in the background.

Today, it's journalists like me trying to reach Zuckerberg, not the other way round.

It's hard to make a film about a moving target, and Facebook doesn't decide what it's doing - in public at least - more than a couple of weeks ahead.

That makes planning filming trips rather tricky - especially when we needed to fit in with the busy schedule of our presenter, Emily Maitlis.

Emily Maitlis by the pool

Emily Maitlis at the house once rented by Mark Zuckerberg and friends

But after endless changes, delays and rearrangements, Emily, my assistant producer Jo Hicks and I found ourselves with Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, California for the interview we'd spent months negotiating for.

So how was he?

Well, he was polite, cheerful, sweaty (by his own admission, as he was fighting off a fever), and he talked fast, very fast. Which was good, as we had so much we wanted to ask him.

What struck me was that he talks just like any normal twenty-something.

Almost every answer seemed to head toward the conclusion "... so that's really cool" combined with a winning smile. It's not what you expect from someone running a business the size of Facebook - but the absence of the usual corporate clichés was very welcome.

Jo and I were filming the interview ourselves on three cameras.

Setting up was a huge rush as our PR minders only found a suitable room to film in a few minutes before he was ready to see us.

When it was over and he was whisked away by minders, I was almost too anxious to look back at the footage.

Had I done something hideous, like switching the camera off instead of on at the vital moment (it has been known)? Had we plugged in the microphones?

Back at the hotel, I gingerly played back the interview. There he was, in full colour, with sound.

Anything more seemed like a bonus. And actually there was more: Zuckerberg has given us a really good interview, which we use throughout the film.

So, yes, I have met Mark Zuckerberg.

Charles Miller is the producer of Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook is on BBC Two on Sunday, 4 December at 9pm.

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.

America in Pictures: The photojournalism of Life magazine

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Rankin Rankin | 11:00 UK time, Thursday, 1 December 2011

I have always been a big fan of Life magazine.

For decades, Life was arguably the most important magazine in America.

It led the way with photojournalism, which had had a profound impact on the printed depiction of American society.

Rankin

Rankin: photographer and presenter of America In Pictures

An American institution, the peaks and troughs of the magazine reflected the rises and falls of the country.

Only when television and celebrity culture took full force did Life finally depart for good.

Filming America in Pictures for BBC Four was a fantastic experience.

Meeting five of Life's photographers was incredibly inspiring, especially Bill Eppridge.

I was struck by his photographs - in particular, of Senator Robert F Kennedy's assassination.

We both choked up as he described the scene: the busboy who went from shaking Kennedy's hand to cradling his head as he was dying in his arms. It was very moving.

I also worked with one of my favourite directors, Jack Cocker, as part of this documentary.

Great at directing film... I wish I could say the same of his sense of direction!

Driving the crew home one rainy evening from a clam bake, he managed to get us completely lost. We eventually arrived home at 2am, with a 6am call time the next day.

Some of the photographers who worked on the magazine were, and still are, the most influential in the world.

Heroes to many, and certainly to me, they captured the most significant moments in American history, each in their individual style.

Of all the Life photographers, I was most influenced by W Eugene Smith.

In the autumn of 1986, I went to see his exhibition at the Barbican.

I was so awed by the show that, before starting my career in publishing, I had my heart set on being a documentary photographer.

W Eugene Smith has been referred to as the originator of the photographic essay, and you'll see in the programme that like many Life photographers, he would spend weeks immersing himself in the lifestyles of his subjects.

This wasn't reportage from the outside looking in, but straight from the inside, raw and beautifully intense, showing how individual lives created the patchwork of American society.

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Life photographer Bill Eppridge talks to Rankin

Working in the field, the Life photographers were repeatedly put in danger, and exposed to instances of life and death.

Hungry for - and committed to - truth, they prioritised the image over salary and personal safety.

Would I react the same way in those situations?

As a portrait and fashion photographer, the biggest hazard I face is changing light bulbs in my studio!

Those photographers would go to any length to get the shot, taking advantage of literally any opportunities they could.

Although the Life photographers loved and respected the magazine, they were not afraid to assert their beliefs and artistic vision, even if it meant going against the editors' wishes.

In fact, this rebellious behaviour gave the magazine its identity, truth and diversity of opinion. I really identify with this.

Photographers don't seem to have the same artistic free reign these days, and looking at the work of Life, that seems a shame.

Rankin is the presenter of America In Pictures.

America In Pictures is on Thursday, 1 December at 9pm on BBC Four.

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.

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