Monday 27 August 2012
The Sherlock Masterclass at MGEITF 2012 - Full Report
Sue Vertue, Andrew Scott, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss collect the Terrestrial Programme of the Year Award at MGEITF 2012.
August 24 2012 was a hugely successful day at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival for Sherlock, seeing a fantastic and informative Masterclass panel, the unveiling of the first hints of possible plotlines for Series Three, and two more awards to add the ever growing collection at Hartswood Films.
Read on for our in-depth write up of the Masterclass panel and the Awards wins, though please note we have summarised much of what was said to avoid any misquoting.
Held annually since 1976 as part of the Edinburgh Festival, the MGEITF 2012 took place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), and attracted well over 2000 delegates for its wide range of seminars, Masterclasses, and Networking opportunities. As the showpiece event of the middle day of the three day event, the Sherlock Masterclass promised an insight into the creation of the series and a look to its future from Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Sue Vertue and Andrew Scott, and it certainly delivered.
Starting at 15:30BST, the Masterclass opened with a new super-trailer from BBC Worldwide featuring all six episodes, re-edited out of order and for maximum dramatic effect. Immediately afterwards, the panel chair Boyd Hilton introduced Sue Vertue, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Andrew Scott to the stage to thunderous applause. Boyd began by asking about the well-known genesis of Sherlock as a series, with the now famous story of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss talking about a modern day version of the characters whilst on a train to Cardiff. Steven said the conversation basically consisted of a checklist of the original stories that could be transferred to the modern day, as well as other elements such as the war in Afghanistan and John Watson writing a blog, but at the time it was just simply non-serious gossip to pass the time. It was only on mentioning it to Sue Vertue that the idea came under serious consideration, and then it was chiefly under the desire to avoid the inevitable annoyance when someone else made a modern day version and they had not.
From this simple idea came big things of course. The unexpected size of the series caught everyone by surprise as they had thought it would be smaller. The discussion turned to the production of the sixty minute pilot and an intention of six episodes of that length, and the success of Wallander that led to three ninety minute episodes instead. Sue recounted a conversation she had on the phone to Mark and Steven, that if they said yes to the three episode format it would be an instant commission by the BBC. Steven said Paul McGuigan was the major difference between the pilot and the final series, bringing a distinctive visual style, but the pilot was also put into research and test screenings to find out what other changes could be made. The major information to emerge was a desire for Moriarty to become an element of the series, as he was unplanned in the original version. Steven said they were unsure if Moriarty was something everyone knew about – and the research revealed he was, even though he only appears in one original story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To close out this section of the discussion, Mark jokingly noted that the most major flaw with the pilot “is Mycroft isn’t in it.”
The panel then moved onto the casting of the actors. For Benedict Cumberbatch, Steven and Sue were simply watching Atonement one night and came across his ‘amazing creepy villain’ performance in the film, with Steven realising “Oh he could be Sherlock Holmes!” As Sue recounted, he was exactly as Steven had described, being “Tall, thin, angular” and had, as Steven said, “an impressive nose!” They mentioned the idea to Mark, who already knew Benedict and he agreed. They recorded a screen test with Benedict in Beryl Vertue’s flat, which was sent to the BBC with the proviso there was no point carrying on with the project unless they agreed with his casting. With Martin Freeman, it was simply evident he was John Watson as soon as he and Benedict read together, as the pair had an instant chemistry. Mark put it best in typically amusing fashion with “There’s the show. Plus, he’s short!” On Louise Brealey as Molly Hooper, Steven said they had never intended to introduce an original character not in the books as a regular, but having seen her perform simply had to keep including her.
Since Andrew Scott was present on stage, much talk was dedicated to the creation of his version of Moriarty, with some interesting revelations. In the original version of The Great Game, the intention was just for him to appear as ‘Gay Jim’ in his earlier appearance at St Bart’s Hospital, with the revelation of his identity just being a message left at the swimming pool at the conclusion. What became the final pool scene dialogue was actually written as an audition, and was what Steven described as a ‘ridiculous and nonsensical’ scene, but one that once Andrew had auditioned with it became their favourite scene from the entire first series, and was thus included at the end of the episode.
Andrew said he was very aware that he was not the first person people would think of as Moriarty, being both non-obvious casting and a non-obvious version of the villain, and very much not a copycat of previous interpretations. He said it was often a mistake to think that just because you don’t look like a character doesn’t mean you can’t carry the essence of the character. He said he loved that the script was audacious and theatrically written, and though the success couldn’t be predicted he had a sense it would be very special. Though once it had aired, Andrew jokingly said that he went online to see reactions and it was the greatest lesson ever. “Twitter is like going into a room and being punched, and then kissed, and then hugged, and then complimented ‘oh I really love your tie’.”
Mark compared their version of Moriarty to Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, where the character is onscreen for around sixteen minutes but it feels as if he dominates the entire film as he is spoken about throughout it, and just like Andrew effectively stole the show. They were very keen to ‘rescue’ the character of Moriarty, as he is traditionally portrayed as grave and physically stooped, and redefine him as, as Steven had noted before, ‘he was the original super-villain.’ Steven also said how excited they were once the series began screening and went so big, so fast “as there’s one guy who hasn’t come on yet!” On Series Two, there was never a conscious decision to go bigger than the first, they simply couldn’t help it, and while the original plan was to save Reichenbach for the conclusion of a third series, they eventually decided to include the three most famous stories in the second.
The panel then broke to move onto the next section, which began with the scene from The Hounds of Baskerville where John finds himself locked inside the laboratory, played on the big screen. Mark said the scene started life in a totally different way. He wanted to write a suspense sequence into the script, and originally set it inside a meat locker freezer, as that was something he felt hadn’t been seen before, and Sue even went through the stages of recceing locations. However due to various issues it fell through, and instead Mark rewrote the scene while sat on the large Baskerville lab set to have it occur in that location. Paul McGuigan suggested that the scene open with the blasting bright light and claxons, to give a sense of sensory overload. Steven said in contrast to those changes, the scene of Henry Knight reacting to his overactive security light was very precisely plotted in the script by Mark. Talk turned to the now famous Mind Palace sequence, and all confirmed it had grown out of Paul McGuigan’s ideas from Series One, where Paul had invented the floating text idea while filming The Great Game (the first episode to be shot) while Steven was writing A Study in Pink, and he in turn ran with it. The moment where Sherlock mimics Elvis Presley was invented by Benedict Cumberbatch. Neither Steven or Mark were originally intending to write The Hounds of Baskerville, but Mark kept gravitating towards it, despite it ending up ‘a complete bitch’ to write. Mark said the original Conan Doyle novel is an intractable story, “as in the end it’s just a big dog with paint on it” that makes little narrative sense. Steven followed on with “Why does anybody do any of this? He decides to kill somebody so he gets a giant dog. WHY?”
The SHERLOCKED scene from A Scandal in Belgravia was then played, and discussion turned to the casting of Lara Pulver as Irene Adler. Steven noted that, on the page as he had written her, Irene could be seen as quite ‘awful’, but Lara brought a sense of fun to the role. Mark described her audition tape that she had sent from Los Angeles, and she appeared to not be wearing any clothes in it, which led to much hilarity on stage and in the auditorium. The character also brought up discussion of the investment of Sherlock fans in the series, with Steven noting that that is “the mark of a show that is making a mark.” Irene Adler is the dangerous one, but describing the clip just shown, Steven said that you couldn’t tell if Sherlock was really in love with her, “but he was certainly fascinated by her.” Steven also complimented composer Michael Price, who was sat next to us, for the amazing music in the scene.
Following on from that, discussion turned more towards the fan investment in the series. Steven said they thought the show would be good, with maybe four million viewers and an obscure award at a Polish festival, but instead it was a sudden, enormous hit with a constant escalation of ownership, engagement, extrapolation and creation of material, almost like fifty years of Doctor Who distilled into ninety minutes. Mark said despite some reactions, they couldn’t make the series for anyone but themselves, and Steven said that Sherlock as series was basically their own fan fiction. He said that despite it sounding sentimental, the series was born out of their own love for the original material, and they wouldn’t mind if nobody watched just as long as they could carry on making it for each other. They also recounted the “sheer joy” of the moment they had a 221B of their own, as well as stepping from that set and immediately being able to walk onto the TARDIS – “It’s a map of our brains!”
The ending of The Great Game and the opening of A Scandal in Belgravia were then played on the big screen, and it’s fascinating to see them at such a scale with a large audience again, as even now, around ten months since we first saw Scandal, the moment when Moriarty’s phone rings and the subsequent dialogue afterwards still brings gigantic gales of laughter inside a large auditorium. Boyd asked if they had known how to solve the cliffhanger when they shot it, which led Sue to wryly state “That would have been a lot more convenient.” Steven reaffirmed it was written without them knowing the series would be recommissioned, and “we were just being cheeky”, and Mark and Andrew said how strange it was the recreate the setting again eighteen months later. The actual resolution itself came out of Steven noticing how frenetic some of the theorising was becoming, as he realised that now they would have to do something quite good now, and the use of the ringing phone came from Sue telling him about a news story where the BeeGees’ ‘Stayin’ Alive’ suddenly began playing from a phone inside a coffin at a funeral.
In turn, Boyd asked if they knew how the ending of The Reichenbach Fall would be resolved, to which Steven answered with an emphatic YES – “unless we decide to change it.” Mark said they would again have to go back and recreate some material from Series Two for the resolution. Boyd asked Andrew directly if he knew how the ending would be resolved, and Andrew simply replied “I do” with an excellent, stonewalling poker face. On the theories, Mark said how “incredibly byzantine, funny and elaborate” many of them are, but he made an interesting point that since the episode is possibly only watched the once by many in the audience, the resolution couldn’t hinge on an element that could only be seen by pausing and enlarging a small section of the screen! Mark also commented on the theory that Moriarty can’t be dead as you don’t see the back of his head come off, but that was simply due to the fact that that is a level of violence unacceptable on British television at nine thirty at night.
That in turn led Andrew to state “Moriarty is dead.” Which led to Steven jokingly saying “Unless we change our minds!”
The end of the panel led element of the Masterclass was nearly done, but after a question from Boyd on any further comment on Elementary that everyone refused to be drawn on, there was one final thing to reveal, aside from Mark joking “Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson will return.” The Three Words that hint at the plot content of Series Three, deliberately “designed to get you into a lather.” They were spoken in the following order:
“Rat.” – Mark
“Wedding.” – Sue
“Bow.” - Steven, who clarified the spelling, and vocalisation as the same as ‘bough.’
And, as Steven said, “That’s all you’re getting.” Boyd joked that Twitter was now most likely exploding, and that Sherlockology might very well be behind some of that. Sue confirmed again that Series Three will begin filming in January 2013, and aims to be delivered to the BBC in August next year, though as she asked us to reaffirm when we met her later in the day - as her comments had been slightly misconstrued - that delivery date of the finished product is no indication of any broadcast date.
The floor was then opened to audience questions, which began rather inauspiciously with someone who admitted he hadn’t even watched Sherlock, disliked the recent films, and wanted to know why he should watch. After a degree of audience hilarity, Steven simply promised “You’ll like it, I promise you’ll like it.” Second was a question on Twitter accounts and websites set up by the creators, where they reaffirmed the only ones from Hartswood and the BBC were the original Whip Hand account and the websites written by Joe Lidster.
The third questioner asked if, since the three most famous Holmes stories had been tackled in Series Two, there was any worry about running out of material later. Mark said that since there are fifty six short stories and four novels they have plenty of material still to draw on, as well as cherry picking bits and pieces to place within a framework of the stories and having the ability to add new material too. They have also decided that other sources are canonical too, and so include material from the Basil Rathebone films and Billy Wilder’s ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.’ He also said that Sherlock’s introduction by flogging the corpse was hardly ever done onscreen, and it was tremendously exciting to be able to do that.
The fourth audience question was specifically for Mark, asking whether he preferred writing for the series or acting as Mycroft. After jokingly saying “neither”, Mark said the chance to do both was an enormous privilege, but it was also very handy to be able to change a line of dialogue without having to ring someone up on the phone. Sue said that she and Mark are always onset during filming, and she sometimes finds it odd to find him missing – only for Mark to turn up in costume as Mycroft – “Oh, you’re in it!” Mark said at the time he was originally auditioning to play former political spin doctor Peter Mandelson in a biographical film with Julie Walters, and Steve Thompson suggested he play Mycroft as a result. He also reaffirmed it was an intentional decision to be uncredited in A Study in Pink to fool the audience into thinking he was playing Moriarty, as otherwise the truth would quickly have come out.
Both the fifth and sixth questions asked about the worldwide feedback for the series and their reaction to it. All spoke about the huge international profile of the characters, with Russia and the Far East being a particularly large audience. Sue also brought up the gap between UK and International broadcast, with the US screening in May having only ten people who hadn’t seen the episodes, and the audience at the French launch speaking the lines spoken onscreen aloud. Sue expressed a desire to try and close the gap between broadcasts around the world in future, though we must say that shouldn’t be taken as any confirmation it will happen.
The seventh questioner turned out to be presenter Richard Bacon, who attempted to swing proceedings onto the subject of Doctor Who, resulting into a comedic slanging match with Steven who amusingly bellowed “Richard, you’re not hosting THIS panel!” following the series seven launch at the BFI in London the previous week.
The final two questions had a technology focus, with the eighth asking if they were worried about the use of technology dating the series – to which Mark noted Holmes was always a man of technology in the original stories – and the ninth and last question asking about online blogs and criticism, with Steven saying he tries to avoid much of it, and Mark saying if you didn’t know it was there you would just carry on, and at times it felt akin to eavesdropping on the conversations of others. Sue noted that some of the videos and pictures put out online were fantastic, and Boyd asked Andrew what the most unusual thing he had been ever sent was – and Andrew decided it was a bag of Moriartea.
And with that, that was the end of the Sherlock Masterclass. Boyd Hilton thanked Sue, Steven, Mark and Andrew for the panel and the audience disbanded. You can watch selected video highlights of the Masterclass from The Guardian here. Also, immediately after the panel Steven, Mark and Andrew recorded a shorter Q&A for The Guardian in the main entrance hall of the EICC, and you can watch that here. It includes some material from the Masterclass, as well as some new lines of questioning not covered above.
But more was yet to come later in the day at 18:00BST, when we returned to the same auditorium for the Channel of the Year Awards 2012. The awards recognise the increasingly competitive and often challenging market that today’s TV companies operate in, celebrate the creative, innovative and commercial solutions that both channels and production companies present, and are voted for by delegates to the Television Festival. Hosted by comedian Jason Bryne, the awards were a freewheeling and comedic affair that saw success for Sherlock in both the categories it was nominated for.
Firstly, the series won Terrestrial Programme of the Year for the second year running. Up against tough competition from Downton Abbey, Educating Essex, Homeland and The Voice, the win provoked possibly the biggest cheer of the ceremony and after striding up onto the stage with Sue and Andrew, Steven and Mark thanked everyone for the ‘best award’ of the night. Later, Sherlock won again with The Network & Ones to Watch Programme Choice Award, up against Black Mirror, Educating Essex and Homeland, and this time Andrew and Sue collected the award to huge applause.
And so ended what was arguably Sherlock’s day at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. After spending some time congratulating Steven, Mark, Sue and Andrew for the award wins, we exited the Conference Centre to find a crowd of people waiting for them to emerge before we headed off for the journey home. As Michael Price, who we had spent much of the day with, rather aptly tweeted later on - ‘3 words, 2 awards and 1 jolly day’.