Little Island Productions, one of the producers of BAFTA-winning Patrick Melrose and Amazon’s forthcoming epic fantasy drama The Wheel Of Time, is looking to enter its next phase of growth with plans to open a base in LA and ramp up its slate of originals.
This comes as its latest original series, Stephen Poliakoff’s period drama Summer of Rockets, is set to launch on BBC Two.
In an interview with Deadline, Little Island Managing Director Helen Flint has also opened up about its plans to grow its business of acting as the UK production partner on a raft of Hollywood studio-produced series and its latest novel adaptation.
It’s been a good fortnight for the company. Last Sunday, Patrick Melrose, which it produced with Michael Jackson’s Two Cities Television, won two BAFTAs including best mini-series and Benedict Cumberbatch as best actor. Flint revealed that the show had been in development for some time, including stints with the BBC and Channel 4, before Sky picked it up after the David Nicholls-penned adaptation secured Sherlock star Cumberbatch in the lead role.
Its next series is Summer of Rockets, a semi-autobiographical drama from Dancing on the Edge’s Poliakoff that stars Bodyguard’s Keeley Hawes and Black Sails’ Toby Stephens.
The six-episode series (left) is set in the UK during the Cold War period of the late 1950s, a time when the UK, like much of the world, was dealing with the threat of international espionage and nuclear armageddon. The series follows Samuel (Stephens), a 40-something Russian Jewish émigré, inventor and designer of bespoke hearing aids, whose clients include former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. The drama follows Samuel and his family, wife Miriam and children Hannah and Sasha, as he is approached by MI5 to demonstrate his work.
It is not his inventions the operatives require, however. Instead Samuel is tasked with the secret mission of obtaining information about his charming, newly acquired friends Kathleen (Hawes, pictured below left) and her husband Richard Shaw MP (Roache) through whom Samuel also meets the impressive Lord Arthur Wallington (Spall). Writer-director Poliakoff’s Russian-born father was a naturalized British electronics engineer, inventor and businessman.
The show is set to debut on BBC Two at 9pm on May 22 with all of the episodes available after the first TX on BBC iPlayer. Poliakoff (right) said, “Although the story is fictitious, a lot of the details and some of the incidents are based on what happened to my family.” Flint said that she’s known Poliakoff for 20 years. “It’s important to have those relationships, the writer wants to feel safe and protected and to make sure whatever you make is the best of the best. British drama is all about keeping those writers happy and wanting them to stay and work with you.”
Former Company Pictures exec Flint, who set up the business six years ago, said that its development slate, run by Suzan Harrison, is based entirely on novels and the company has around ten books in active development. Its latest is an adaptation of Francesca Hornak’s 7 Days of Us, the story of the Birch family, who come together for the first time in years thanks to the fact that their eldest daughter, a doctor, has returned from treating an epidemic abroad and she and her family must stay in quarantine.
The adaptation is being penned by Giula Sandler, who is writing Margot Robbie’s forthcoming female focused Shakespeare-inspired series for ABC Studios International. “If you have a novel, it helps a lot because people know what they’re going to get,” added Flint.
However, Little Island’s original slate is only one third of its focus; the company is also focused on co-producing projects, ala Patrick Melrose, and working as a studio for hire.
The latter has seen it work on titles Jodie Comer-fronted The White Princess for Starz and ABC comedy Galavant. Dan Fogelman’s musical comedy ran for two seasons on the Disney-owned network and Flint said that a couple of months after launching Little Island she was approached by ABC. “They came to me and asked if we had any castles in the UK and I said ‘that’s my favorite question’. They were thinking about doing Galavant as CGI in Vancouver but I took Dan Fogelman to one of the big cathedrals down in the south west, it was early evening with the British light coming through stained glass windows, which was beautiful and Dan said ‘can we film here’ and I said ‘yes’.”
The company is now working on an adaptation of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time for Amazon. The series, which is co-produced by Sony Pictures Television and Amazon Studios, is written by Chuck writer Rafe Judkins and set in a sprawling, epic world where magic exists, but only women can use it.
Flint (left), who is an exec producer on the series, is looking to set up an office in LA to help further this side of the business. “This company is international and I see us opening a similar sized office in LA in another four years just to be on the ground and to be available. I never started this to be a domestic company. I’d like a foot in LA so it’s accessible for people to come to us. That’s the sort of thing that by being in LA we can do,” she said.
“The structure of the company is such that to ensure that the spine of the company is always fine, we offer production in very many guises, as a producer helping to find you production service or we can go through all the way through and co-produce. Then the other side is our own stuff,” she added.
The global ambition comes as Flint, who previously produced HBO co-pro Longford, warns that there must be a balance for British drama producers between working for international SVOD services and domestic broadcasters to ensure a healthy environment.
“We have a domestic broadcasting scenario where they do only have a certain amount of money and we have to respect that but equally we have the SVODs, which do have money and whether that will be a problem for our domestic broadcasters, we’ll see soon because we want to keep our IP, whereas the Netflixs of the world want to eat our IP,” she said.
Flint was one of the execs who helped launched the high-end TV tax credit, which gave producers a rebate on productions that cost more than £1M per hour. She said this “changed the game.”
“We hit the perfect storm where we had more content required and ambition in the country, more money coming in, expectations going up and all of that has increased all across the board from domestic and international,” she added.
However, she warns that there is still value in lower cost British drama – look at the success of the cast and writing team behind youth-skewing series Skins – and younger producers need to be able to make shows for less than £1M per ep if required. “The thing I worry about is that people like me have come from a background of making shows for no money, we didn’t have a lot of money but we did it. There are lot of tricks to make sure that the very best visual is up there and that’s what you have to do. But I worry about the younger generation, because if they’re walking into a lot of money being put on the table for an episode, but without the skill set of how to spend it best, if it ever came to pass that the high-end tax credit went for whatever political reason.”
Summer of Rockets debuts on BBC Two at 9pm on Wednesday May 22