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I TALK TO Chris Lunt

A few weeks ago I caught up with Chris Lunt, who wrote new ITV drama Prey to talk about how this series came about and the state of UK drama at the moment.

Yet again, here I am talking about another brilliant ITV drama. If ITV make no more dramas this year, they'd already have satisfied viewers around the country much more than the BBC. So far this year we've had The Widower, Undeniable, Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This and now the latest one to add to that list is Prey.

Prey is a three-parter starring John Simm (The Village) as Marcus Farrow, a man who Narrowly escapes police custody and becomes an outlaw. As a wanted killer, Farrow has few allies, however one thing is certain, he will do anything for the sake of his family and does things he never though were possible.Also starring alongside John Simm are Rosie Cavaliero (A Young Doctor's Notebook), Craig Parkinson (Line Of Duty), Anastasia Hille (The Fear) and Adrian Edmondson (Bottom).

Prey really is brilliant and the performances are outstanding, none more so than John Simm who you'd expect nothing less from.

I've seen the first episode of Prey and I must say I really really enjoyed it so well done. How would you best describe Prey?

It's a story about Marcus Farrow who's a cop on the run, for a crime he didn't commit. And basically his drive is to clear his name to protect his family. He can't imagine anything worse than his family thinking that he's guilty of this terrible crime.

Where did the idea come from for Prey?

Well I mean I was doing a lot of projects that were high concept - science fiction and supernatural - doing quite well. I was winning a number of commissions for developing projects and scripts etc. But it was a difficult time to sell high concept projects, so basically Polly Hill at the BBC said - "Look, we really do like Chris' writing and we think he could go all the way, but as long as he's pitching stuff about UFO's, aliens and superheroes, he's probably not going to get anything away at the moment" - especially as an emerging writer.

Nichola Schindler and me had a really frank conversation where we decided to have a brainstorm of ideas. And very quickly what we said was that we haven't seen a fugitive story about a guy on the run. The conversation in the room very quickly firmed up into being what went into development.

In that initial conversation we spoke about Marcus Farrow, and we talked about him being accused of a murder he'd not committed.

Although originally he was going to break into a prison, but that idea got dropped pretty quickly, and it just evolved from that really. We went back to the drawing board and started talking about ideas, and tried to write the treatments. And those early treatments very much reflect the eventual project - Prey.

From that initial brainstorm to today, how long has it taken you to write Prey?

I think we had that meeting in around about May/June 2010. I'd been made redundant in April 2010, so we started talking about this in the Summer and later on it 2010 and then we shot it in August last year (2013).

So it's a good two and a half years from the initial idea, writing the treatment, having a script commissioned... and the truth is as well Elliot, that it didn't ever feel that we were standing still or going backwards. It always felt like it was moving forwards. ITV came aboard very early in 2013 and I knew it was green-lit around February 2013 and then we were just waiting for it to start shooting in late Summer.

With ITV being such a great channel for drama at the moment, did you write Prey with ITV in mind?

The truth is that it doesn't necessarily feel like an ITV drama. It was quite different from anything they'd done before. And what Nick Murphy did with the script, how he pitched he would shoot it - hand held and very natural - played a big part in that.

The first script, had John (Simm) attached, and it went to ITV and ITV came back and said - "Look, we're very very keen on this and we're very seriously considering green lighting it." But because I was a first time writer, they wanted to see episode two.

So I very quickly write episode two and it was on the basis on episodes one and two together that it was green lit. So I wrote episode three with the series having been green lit and it was written by the time we started shooting. Not that I changed anything. I wrote the script that I wanted to write. I didn't sit down and watch a load of ITV dramas.

You mentioned that John Simm was attached to the script. Was John always the actor you envisaged playing Marcus Farrow?

By September 2012 he was already attached, and I think what happened was, that Nicola Schindler was a fan and friend of John, and it was a very very short list of actors. Basically it was John's name that was put forward when I was writing the first episode.

The script went to John's agent and very quickly John said "I'd be very interested in playing this character if it was to happen." So from draft two of episode one Marcus Farrow was John Simm.

Did John Simm have any input into how the character of Marcus Farrow turned out?

Oh absolutely. Knowing John's style, and knowing what a phenomenal actor he is, and you know yourself - that big emotional scene in the first episode, all I wrote in the script there was - "Farrow's world collapses." - that was it. I suppose what it is, is the confidence in knowing what that guy is going to do.

John Simm is, in my opinion, one of the finest actors working today. He threw himself into this role like you wouldn't believe. He really damaged his leg during filming and had to have three weeks off while he recovered - he didn't shy away from anything. The things you see Farrow do on screen - and believe me, there's more to come - was all John.

Marcus Farrow is a Policeman, a family man and a wanted man - How did you see him?

What Marcus Farrow had to be, was an absolute everyman, who is pushed into this extraordinary situation, where he is forced to perform heroically. In that first meeting where we sat down to brainstorm, we said this can not be a Bruce Willis type character, he can't be a hero - because he's being driven by what I felt emotionally was the most powerful thing in the world, which is being a father, being a family man. I can't imagine anything else in the world worse than someone threatening my kids or my family.

What we talked about early on was that Farrow was obviously a very good copper, so why is he the guy who isn't necessarily the boss of the unit?

And that's because he's always had this focus on his family life. Farrow has taken his foot off the accelerator of his career and he would love the perfect family - wife and two kids. And I think that's Farrow's drive. Had he been someone who'd focussed solely on the job, he'd probably be running his own unit.

Was it a conscious decision to make the start of episode one, and indeed the whole series so fast-paced and high octane?

My personal taste is American movies, and I suppose at the end of the day you write what you know. So I wanted to write something that was exciting, and had chases, and had people jumping off stuff - that to me just seemed entirely natural.

There weren't many scenes where the note was - "We won't be able to do this on TV." There was actually a scene in episode two where Farrow jumps off a train and is almost instantly run over by a train coming in the other direction, and when I was writing that scene what I wanted to do was give a feeling for how it was going to feel watching it.

So if you were to read the script, it's written a bit like a thriller. And I wrote this thinking - "We're never going to throw John Simm in front of a train, so I wrote that thinking this will never happen... but they put it in! (Laughs)

And that pace really is maintained throughout. The second episode begins with him being chased down alleyways - we just jump straight back into it.

So why was Prey a three-parter? Why not a one-off? Why not a six-part series?

What happened was, we sat down in the meeting with Steve November when we were discussing it and there was the potential, for a moment - in a single sentence that Steve November said - where it could've been more episodes. I personally felt that a story about a guy on the run could out stay its welcome.

I felt that when you see the story across the three episodes, the pace that's maintained by the fact that there are three, is one of the things that makes people go - "Oh, this is good." That was a strategy of mine to think how do I make this as fast-paced and compulsive as possible and not have anyone go - "I'm just gonna make a brew love!" (Laughs) Do you know what I mean?

There have been a lot of dramas recently, including - Broadchurch, The Fall, The Returned, Line Of Duty - whose endings have been criticised  Did you feel added pressure writing the ending for Prey in light of this?

Prey was always a single story. There was never a discussion of it being a returning series, I wanted to finish it and say - "There you go." I personally think that the ending is fantastic. If you're not crying your eyes out by the end - there's something wrong with you.

It ends beautifully, it really does tie itself up beautifully and maybe in a few weeks time we'll be faced with the same criticism, but you never know. I personally think that the end is emotionally satisfying.

Would you agree that TV drama, especially in the UK, is the best it's ever been?

TV drama at the moment in this country, is absolutely phenomenal. And I'm pleased to say that the people involved in making it, and that I talk to on social networks and what have you, are the best bunch of people you can imagine knowing. To be in the field today alongside the likes of Chris Chibnall is thrilling.

These people are world class talent, and at the same time, genuinely approachable supportive people. And that to me is the most important thing, that no matter where you are on the ladder, there are always people willing to give you a bit of advice and it's something that I try and do as well.

How does it feel, as a new writer to TV, knowing that your drama is about to go out to millions of people at home? Are you nervous? Excited?

I got the first episode sent to me, it arrived at my house and I uploaded it to my computer in my front room and I put my headphones on and I sat there looking through my fingers, and about 20 minutes I thought - "Oh my god. This is really good!" And from then on I'm more excited than I am nervous, because I know at the end of the day that it's a good piece of TV.

I think that ultimately, the way that ITV have got behind it has been out of this world, the backing they've given it is phenomenal. I've had a few friends come around and watch it and at the end they've gone - "Bloody hell Chris, it's really bloody good that!" (Laughs)

What's next for you then, after Prey?

Well I'm writing a thing called Dreamland, for ITV which is a cop show set in the 1920s but it's a bit Twin Peaks-y. It's slightly heightened, but not massively, it's not like Mr Selfridge which is set in the 1920s. Then there's Bringing Down The Krays for the BBC which is about the three young brothers who were three of the five people who testified against the Krays. So the focus is on them.

Obviously the twins are in it, but it's about three young lads who weren't actually villains themselves, so I'm writing that. I'm a lead writer on the adaptation of The Famous Five and then finally at the moment I'm about to embark on a thing called Driven, for AMC and the BBC which is about Formula in the 1970s which is cool.

The thing at the moment Elliot is that I'm really enjoying it. I'm a bit of a workaholic, I love what I do, I think I'm very fortunate and lucky to be doing what I'm doing.

Prey starts Monday 28th April at 9pm on at ITV


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