The new BBC One thriller The Capture begins on Tuesday 3rd September at 9pm and on BBC iPlayer. We caught up with its writer and director, Ben Chanan, to ask about how he got the idea for the drama, whether he was concerned that real events would overtake the story and if he was influenced by any existing TV or films.
Watch the trailer for The Capture
When did you begin writing scripts?
I was originally a director (and still direct more than write). I think my first writing credit was on Blackout back in 2013. I had started out directing documentaries and then moved into drama. I had a commission from Channel 4 to make a ‘what-if’ drama about a cyber-attack, using found footage, which became Blackout. On Blackout I co-wrote with Joe Barton, whose script I’d directed for Our World War for BBC Three.
Channel 4 were pleased with Blackout and asked for more pitches in a similar vein (you always get asked for more of the same thing again!) I said I wanted to write something different next and this turned out to be Cyberbully (starring Maisie Williams). Again Cyberbully was a co-write, my first single writing credit was for The People Next Door (2016).
Watch a clip from The Capture - DI Rachel Carey (Holliday Grainger) attends a crime scene with her colleague DS Flynn, and contacts an old friend for some hi-tech help in identifying her suspect.
When did you have the idea for The Capture?
I’d first thought of the idea of The Capture years ago and started to develop it and even pitched it as an idea. It wasn’t picked up then, so having finished directing The Missing Series 2 (2016) I was at a loose end. It was January and I thought ‘I haven’t got a job’ so I’ll sit here at home and have a stab at this idea. Out of this came the first episode’s spec’ script. I needed to sit down and give it that time.
Where did the idea of The Capture originate?
The foundations were laid years ago when I was making documentaries. I was interviewing counter-terrorism operatives in the UK and USA and learnt a lot about their worlds and what they think about. One of the things that became really clear was how central video evidence is, and how it is often the most effective way of securing a conviction. At the same time I was increasingly aware of how much better and faster visual effects were becoming – and how it was possible to manipulate video. Those two worlds were colliding, and wouldn’t that make an interesting world for a drama? However it took a long time to come up with a plot to service the idea.
DI Rachel Carey (HOLLIDAY GRAINGER) in The Capture (mage Credit: BBC/Heyday Films/Nick Wall)
Were you worried that real events would overtake you?
As I was writing people were sending me links to articles and stories about the new dangers presented by fake news, facial recognition software etc. I was concerned to get the drama out as soon as possible. It’s hard to be timely in TV drama as things take at least two years. Fortunately it’s hit the right moment and I think we’re not just talking about what’s going on right now but also advancing the conversation, so there is plenty about the drama which feels fresh and relevant.
Shaun Emery (CALLUM TURNER) in The Capture (Image Credit: BBC/Heyday Films/Nick Wall)
Were there films or TV shows that influenced the style or tone of The Capture?
The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor – in other words 1970s conspiracy films. I love those movies and I miss them. The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 1978 version). They touch on horror and sci-fi but the narrative is a conspiracy thriller. That’s the model and tone that I was going for. I remember thinking that I don’t care if The Capture is contemporary in feeling or not as I ‘m going to make it in the tone of a 1970s conspiracy thriller. I also worried that might not fit with our world today – but now I think this is the perfect time to bring back 70s conspiracy thrillers. I had this idea before any of the recent political events and never thought the tone of contemporary politics would fit with the show, but things have moved in that direction…
In terms of recent TV, Bodyguard came out and we thought it had a lot of superficial similarities, but actually once you get into the story the similarities are soon forgotten as the differences become pretty apparent. When I think of TV dramas that I’ve admired that have informed The Capture then I would turn to State of Play. I didn’t initially know whether The Capture was going to be a Film, TV or whatever and when I decided it was a 6-parter for TV I went back to watch State of Play and remembered how it combined a great plot and characters – which are the same things to me – the plot is defined by what the characters have to go through. State of Play was also entertaining, with murder and betrayal, but also humour, and that’s what I want The Capture to be – not just grim and bleak but also fun and entertaining.
On the set of The Capture: Director/Writer/Exec Producer BEN CHANAN, Lia Williams (GEMMA GARLAND), Frank Napier (RON PERLMAN), Danny Hart (BEN MILES) (Image Credit: BBC/Heyday Films/Nick Wall)
What was the commissioning process like? Can you share any advice about that?
Well because I’d been a documentary director, most of the dramas I’d worked on had a documentary tone – although with Cyberbully I tried to move away from that with a heightened, almost theatrical feel to the drama which focussed on one person in one room for one hour. It’s been an evolution for me into actually being able to say ‘I’m a writer’, and getting The Capture commissioned as a series has been a big part of that. Writing a whole series is a big step up.
As I mentioned, I’d pitched it before as a one-page proposal, and had some interest, but it was only once I’d written a full first episode that everything changed, and producers Heyday Television took it on. I know it sounds so obvious, but you need to write the script. It’s hard for people to take a punt on a proposal, they need to be able to read the characters and see them walking and talking. You need to have an idea of where the story is going next but people are really obsessed with the first episode and a good script really raises your stock.
I don’t give advice very freely but people like a good script, and if you can deliver a good first episode then you’re on your way.
Shaun Emery (CALLUM TURNER), Hannah Roberts (LAURA HADDOCK) in The Capture (Image Credit: BBC/Heyday Films/Rob Youngson)
You both wrote and directed The Capture, what are the advantages and disadvantages?
I don’t think I can direct everything that I write and I’m looking forward to writing for other directors. However it brings lots of practical benefits to be a writer / director. When you’re trying to get a project greenlit it’s hard to find the right director for a script, if you come with one already then that particular headache is gone. When you’re directing a script and you have questions for the writer – for example you need to change a location - you cut through all that and you metaphorically turn to ask yourself and say ‘yes’. However on the negative side there’s no one else to blame!