Wednesday 24 Sep 2014
Paradox is a bold, fast-paced, character-driven thriller from Clerkenwell Films for BBC Northern Ireland.
This gripping 5 x 60-minute series for BBC One stars Tamzin Outhwaite (The Fixer, Hotel Babylon) as Detective Inspector Rebecca Flint, who is thrown together with Space Scientist Dr Christian King (Emun Elliott) when a series of rogue images are transmitted from space into his laboratory. The fragmented images appear to be of a major incident but, shockingly, they also suggest it is yet to happen – it's in the future.
With each episode of this high-concept and intriguing series set to a relentless ticking clock, Christian, Rebecca and her team, DS Ben Holt (Mark Bonnar) and DC Callum Gada (Chiké Okonkwo), face a race against time as they only have 18 hours to put together the clues of this most complex of jigsaw puzzles and try to prevent almost certain tragedy.
The reason how, and why, these images are being transmitted to them is a mystery. Forced to intervene in the course of destiny, the underlying question posed throughout Paradox is: "If you could see the future, would you change it?"
Created and written by Lizzie Mickery (Messiah, The 39 Steps and The State Within), Paradox is directed by Bafta award-winning Simon Cellan Jones (Generation Kill, Our Friends In The North) and Omah Madha (Law & Order – UK, Burn Up) and commissioned by Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, and Jay Hunt, Controller, BBC One.
Here, the production team – producer Marcus Wilson (Whitechapel, Life On Mars), executive producers Murray Ferguson (Afterlife, Persuasion) from Clerkenwell Films and Patrick Spence (Five Minutes Of Heaven, Occupation) from BBC Northern Ireland, Lizzie Mickery and Simon Cellan Jones – discuss the ambition and vision behind the thrilling five-part series.
"We knew there was an appetite for a big, bold, fresh take on the cop show," explains Murray Ferguson, chief executive of Clerkenwell Films. "Something that might be different from the traditional formula of investigating a crime that has already taken place.
"So, we began to consider what if we could find a means of telling that story in reverse? Is there an original and credible way of a police team finding themselves with the knowledge of crimes or disasters happening in the future?"
For Murray and the rest of the Clerkenwell team, the next challenge was to find a writer who could mould this idea and create a plausible set-up.
"We wanted the show to feel like it really could happen in the world we all know," continues Murray. "We needed to find a writer who could grab hold of this simple idea and drive it forward, someone who could crack the means of telling it, find the original premise behind it and create the characters and the world."
The clear choice was acclaimed scriptwriter Lizzie Mickery, who has a proven track record in constructing complex, compelling and fascinating plots, illustrated by her gripping stories for Messiah (BBC One).
"I've always been interested in the decisions you're not aware you are making," reveals Lizzie. "You turn left, go home and nothing happens. You turn right and you get hit by a bus.
"Our futures are out there but we all have absolutely no idea of where we are heading. That is where I started with Paradox – the moral and emotional implications of having the ability to change the future."
When Clerkenwell Films took the idea to the BBC's Patrick Spence, he was bowled over by the concept.
"It's not everyday a premise this good walks in the door and it lit us up from day one," explains Patrick.
Murray brought Marcus Wilson on board as producer and together they appointed award-winning Simon Cellan Jones as lead director on the project and Omar Madha, who directed episodes four and five. Renowned space scientist Doctor Margaret Aderin was also drafted in during the development process to confirm the theories presented in the scripts.
Marcus explains: "Lizzie did an awful lot of research herself but it was great to have Maggie on board. She provided invaluable advice and helped to make the science behind certain stories fascinating, easy to understand and accessible for viewers."
For acclaimed director Simon Cellan Jones, setting up a new series was a fresh challenge.
"It was exhilarating to work on a show that relies so heavily on energy and adrenalin, and I loved the idea of taking a high concept and grounding it in a tough, visually arresting reality" explains Simon.
"I was initially wary because I thought it was a sci-fi show but, when I read the scripts, I realised it wasn't that at all. It was something much darker and deeper and when I came on board I was excited about setting up the whole show, creating the look and getting involved with casting."
Tamzin Outhwaite was cast in the lead role of DI Rebecca Flint and she was an early choice to play the pivotal role, explains Murray.
"We always knew we wanted Tamzin. She came up in discussions at a very early stage as someone the audience would empathise with, and we all agreed she would be able to take them on Rebecca's extraordinary journey. We then wanted the character of Christian to be a mystery, but have edge and magnetism," continues Murray, "which are all qualities Emun Elliott brought to the role.
"Mark Bonnar is a very experienced actor who we knew would be able to bring the power and energy we needed for Ben, and Chiké Okonkwo convinced us he had both the appeal and range as an actor to take Callum on his dark journey."
Once casting was complete, filming the drama presented its own unique set of challenges. "I hope we surprise the audience," says Simon.
"In a way, I want them to expect it will be a mainstream, commercial, American-style drama and then be surprised when they see it is rooted it in reality. While shooting, I wanted the actors to be immersed in the action rather than set back from it and I didn’t want it over elaborately staged.
"We had a fantastic set so it was very easy to put the camera right among things rather than have this overlooking rather detached feel."
To add to the tension and maintain the cracking pace of each episode, production built a countdown timer into the Prometheus laboratory. "We felt this could work well because it is an engaging way of reminding the audience that time is elapsing," explains Simon.
"I see Paradox as a character-driven thriller that maintains a heart-stopping adrenaline pace and the ticking clock helps keep viewers involved and in the room. We don’t want to allow the audience to relax."
"I agree with Simon," continues Marcus. "For me, communicating the tension and pace of the story was essential. We wanted to give the drama a very real feel, not documentary style, more giving it the sense that this could be taking place just around the corner."
The BBC and Patrick are delighted with the results. "It has been so exciting to watch the production team and Simon, in particular, breathing life into every part of the show in such a way that it has exceeded our every expectation.
"It's hard to put into words how proud we are of Paradox, for its boldness, its confidence and its intelligence – all wrapped up in one adrenaline pumping rollercoaster ride every week," says Patrick.
As well as being a breakneck thriller full of puzzles and investigative elements, Lizzie believes Paradox poses life changing questions.
"If you start to change things are you messing with the order of life?" muses Lizzie. "If someone is about to die and you save them, are you jeopardising other people's futures? Big questions like: 'Should you sacrifice the individual for the mass?’ come into play.
"Hopefully, Paradox will be a really thrilling and exciting drama made even more so by the resonance of all these elements."
The drama was shot in 13 weeks, so production had an extremely tight schedule and worked collaboratively to film ambitious set pieces on time.
"We filmed huge complex scenes involving chases and explosions," explains Marcus, "so it was a real team effort to make it work."
"I was also massively ambitious," reveals Simon. "I wanted to include big action shots but also maintain the intimacy, immediacy and reality of the show. I always set out to shoot far more than one would expect, but luckily I had a very experienced cameraman on board."
"We were also hampered by the weather," explains Marcus, "because it was very unstable over the summer. Each episode is set within a very short time period so the changeable weather caused havoc and it was difficult to manufacture weather conditions. In the end we took the decision to have it raining throughout episode five!"
Paradox starts on BBC One in November and Marcus sums up the five part thriller: "I hope viewers find Paradox a thrilling rollercoaster ride with huge amounts of excitement, emotion and spookiness. It should thrill and terrify, but also leave viewers questioning what they would do if they had the opportunity to change the future."
More content about Paradox will be published, as transmission approaches, on this page:
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