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Industry Report: Television

Misan Sagay, Katie Swinden, Sam Miller • Creators

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Misan Sagay, Katie Swinden, Sam Miller  • Creators

- Cineuropa sat down with the creators of Guerrilla at the sixth edition of Série Series in Fontainebleau. Screenwriter Misan Sagay, producer Katie Swinden and director Sam Miller introduce the new Sky Atlantic/Showtime series.

Cineuropa: How did you each of you become involved in Guerrilla?
Katie Swinden: I’m an executive producer on the show, so I worked closely with creator John Ridley at the conception of the project. We then took it to Sky Atlantic and Showtime.

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Misan Sagay: I had previously spoken with John about a new way of writing fiction with people colour. A year later, I had a message from Katie that John wanted me to write an episode of Guerrilla.

Sam Miller: Similarly, I had worked with John in the US on a project and I’d also worked extensively with Katie and Patrick Spence at Fifty Fathoms Productions. They proposed the project to me.

How do you see the rapid growth of streaming and new distribution channels influencing the way stories will be told?
KS: I think it’s a very exciting time for television. There are some amazing talent involved and some very authored voices coming through. Those big streaming platforms are challenging the market, but also, and I say this as somebody who watches television, there is an awful lot of drama out there. And you simply can’t keep on top of it. So I think eventually we will move more into niche dramas. There will be one kind of person who really likes a certain type of show. Instead of a broader audience that shows used to play to, I think shows will become increasingly more niche. So they’ll have lower audience figures, but their level of enjoyment with the audience will be much higher.

MS: And they’ll have a passionate following.

KS: Exactly. And that’s very exciting because it means that a strong vision and a real sense of authorship will be the byline for making drama.

SM: That’s the dream, isn’t it? There’s the really exciting thing about the way TV has proliferated, there’s now a space for other voices. People don’t have to be so safe. In fact, more and more networks, more and more companies are trying to do things that are really original, that change the playing field. 

Would you say that there’s an increase in the quality of series being made, now that a broader range of voices have had the ability to tell their stories?
SM: One hundred per cent.

MS: I do. I think it’s not just that they’re better, but they’re also braver.

SM: Crazy brave, at times.

Is the series based on or inspired by true events?
MS: In terms of the characters, it’s not a true story, it’s fiction. But their stories were based on things that might have happened or based around people that existed. Although it was fiction, what wasn’t fiction was fact. And I think that’s what gives it its feeling of authenticity. The other side is that it gives you freedom to be able to tell your story without being constrained by historical, factual accuracy of what happened. When I first met John, one of the things we said was that you never get Bonnie and Clyde with black people. There were a lot of different influences. I can’t speak for him, but I think he wanted to be free to tell his story without necessarily undertaking a biopic. He had a lot of things to say about those times and revolution and today, and respectability, politics in the black community, and I think this is the forum that was easiest to talk about them.

SM: I think the “what-if” that is built into the story strangely opens it up and makes it a universal story. If it had just been purely history-based you could dismiss it and say “Well, that’s history. Now is different.” Whereas the “what-if” element of the story means it stays current.

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