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Industry Report: Television

Ruth Caleb • Producer

by 

Ruth Caleb  • Producer

- At Série Series, Cineuropa spoke with veteran producer Ruth Caleb, the BBC’s former head of Drama, about her illustrious career.

Cineuropa: As the first ever female producer at the BBC, how did you begin your career? What drew you to television production?
Ruth Caleb: I joined the BBC as assistant floor manager under a regional contract, and had the opportunity to work in variety of positions. I also had the chance to direct. I went from line producer, to producer, then executive producer, and eventually became head of Drama for BBC Wales, before taking on the position of head of all Drama at the BBC. 

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What kind of projects are you drawn to now? What kinds of stories do you like to tell?
I came from a family that was very politically minded. As a young person, I firmly believed that I could change the world. My projects all centre around social issues. One of the first series I produced was about poverty and deprivation in the 19th century. Following that, I produced a real life drama about a miscarriage of justice. Most of my productions, regardless of genre, are fact-based. I am interested in stories about social issues, issues that are relevant to where we live and how we live.

To what extent are you personally involved in screenwriting and script development?
There are two different strands to this question. If I generate the idea, then I hire a writer and work with the writer and give notes. Sometimes a writer brings me an idea. In this case, the writer is given a certain amount of freedom, and as a producer you give notes. The other strand of what I do is improvisation. Documentary filmmakers will develop a framework, and I get involved in casting, finding actors who have lively minds. I am always closely involved during a shoot.

Do you believe the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon will impact the future of television?
I think they already have. These services have made changes in a positive way. There are more choices and a broader amount of content. Streaming services have created a need for more programming. I think they have developed a broader spectrum and more opportunities, allowing for more risk-taking projects.

In the long term, do you think the quality of series will remain high with so much being produced?
I think you will have some rubbish series and some high quality. Just because something is cheap, does not mean it is not good. The importance of good writing becomes more evident. There is a strong market for good programmes and dramas.  As long as you have this huge range, you have diversity. As long as there is funding, you can create diversity. It is when the money runs out, that the range shrinks, and diversity gets scaled back.

What projects you are working on currently?
I still work with the BBC, as well as my independent production company. I have several projects planned. One production in development is about a murder in the small town of Mayfield, Kentucky. I also have two TV dramas in development. At this stage in my career, I am able to choose projects selectively and focus on the stories that I am drawn to.

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