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BBC TV Blog: Hunted: Our fascination with spies

Hunted: Our fascination with spies
Frank Spotnitz

[Original article here]

My career has been most closely associated with science fiction, which is no surprise given the years I spent writing and producing The X-Files TV series and feature films.

But for Hunted, the new series I created for the BBC, I’ve moved away from science fiction to the spy genre, which is my favourite in all of film and television.

There are some obvious reasons for this.Spy stories provide plenty of opportunities for action and suspense – things motion pictures can deliver with unique effectiveness.

But I think the real appeal of the spy genre is much deeper.

By definition spies are duplicitous. They appear to be one type of person when they are actually someone else altogether.

They pursue one agenda while pretending to serve another. A spy simply cannot be trusted.

To varying degrees the same can be said of all of us, spies or not.

We all present a face to the world that is not exactly the person we are inside. Because part of us always remains hidden, none of us is truly knowable – not our parents, siblings, spouse or friends.

It’s not surprising we all yearn to be surrounded by people we can trust. And fear betrayal.

That for me is what spy stories do so well. Spies live in a world of deceit and distrust. Their stories externalise our deepest fears.By design Hunted plays on these fears in the most intimate way I could imagine.

Sam Hunter suspects that she has been betrayed by the man she loves. She must expose herself to mortal danger, knowing she can’t trust him or anyone else.

Of course Sam is more than an embodiment of our collective fears. Brilliantly realised by Melissa George, she is a unique, complex, contradictory character with a dark and troubled past.

I am neither a spy nor a woman and yet I find it very easy to identify with Sam. I suspect many audiences will too.

Complicating Sam’s situation is the brave new world in which she we now live.

Over the past few decades espionage has become increasingly privatised. Sam doesn’t work for MI5 or MI6 – she works for Byzantium, a private security firm dedicated not to defence of the realm but to serving the interests of its clients.

These clients’ identities are not revealed to operatives like Sam which makes identifying who might want her dead – and why – even more difficult.

Sam runs for her life through the alleyways of Tangier

Researching this world proved less difficult than you might imagine.

Business is booming – there are now thousands of private security firms operating all over the globe.

And while they keep secret their client lists they were very happy to talk (with names withheld) about the work they do.

I collaborated with a team of talented writers for six months on the stories for Hunted.

We devised a complicated web of deception with lots of action, suspense, and plot twists and turns.

But at the heart of it all we tried to never lose sight of the character of Sam, who anchors this dangerous world in a deeper emotional truth.

Frank Spotnitz is the executive producer and lead writer of Hunted.

Hunted begins on Thursday, 4 October at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Hunted
Watch Frank Spotnitz talk to BBC Writersroom and BBC Media Centre.
Melissa George and Adam Rayner interviewed on BBC Breakfast.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

The Independent: 'Hunted': A Spooks spin-off? No, a private-eye spy thriller

‘Hunted’: A Spooks spin-off? No, a private-eye spy thriller
The Independent
Frank Spotnitz

[Original article here]

A tense new action drama could be a big hit for the BBC

In the final ever episode of Spooks, broadcast last October, Matthew Macfadyen’s character, Tom Quinn, one of the mainstays of Section D during the first two series of the BBC1 spy drama, made an unexpected return to the show. At the time, Macfadyen’s cameo seemed like something of a valedictory treat to reward the five million or so fans who had stuck loyally with Spooks during its decade-long run – a glimpse of an old favourite that was perhaps also something of a tease: would there be a Spooks spinoff with Quinn as a main character?

No, is the answer to that question, although in retrospect what was interesting about Quinn’s re-appearance was the nature of his new job – the former M15 agent had become a private-security contractor. And it is the booming private-espionage business that forms the backdrop of a new eight-part BBC1 action series, Hunted, which has been made by the makers of Spooks, independent production company Kudos, and created by the chief writer of The X-Files, American scribe Frank Spotnitz.

“There are thousands of these private security firms,” says Spotnitz. “They spy for anyone from Russian oligarchs to football clubs to manufacturers – gaining information and advantage on their competitors. Everyone has heard of the private military contractors like Blackwater [Blackwater Security Consulting – the American firm that controversially provided military personnel in the aftermath of the Iraq War], but people don’t know about these, so I thought it was really timely.”

Hunted stars Australian actress Melissa George (In Treatment, The Slap) as Sam – an operative for a private-intelligence agency called Byzantium. The private companies are often set up by former M15, M16 and CIA agents, who recruit from their old workplaces within the secret state. However, the new business environment is not necessarily a happy one for these old spies, says Spotnitz. “You don’t know what agenda you’re serving and I thought that was really interesting”.

In Hunted, someone attempts to murder Sam, and she comes to believe that the killer comes from her team at Byzantium – kickstarting (and she is very adept at kicking) a racy adventure that stretches from Morocco to the wilds of Scotland. On one level she is a slightly implausible character – a sort of female Jason Bourne – but Spotnitz has given Sam an intriguing enough back-story – and George portrays her with enough veiled emotional intensity – to suck you in. And it helps, of course, that Spotnitz is an old hand at this serial television drama game.

Spotnitz – raised on Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels – formulated his idea of a spy drama, with his former X-Files star Gillian Anderson in the leading role. “Gillian worked on it for a long time and gave a lot of ideas to the development of the character,” says Spotnitz. “But by the time I got the green light she had to drop out.

“So then I was in the position of having to find someone else who could play this role and believe me it was extremely difficult. We went through 200 actresses who put themselves on tape for this. Sam has got a lot of walls up and that can become very dull, and what Melissa brought to the role from the very first audition is the sense that there is somebody behind that wall that you want to know more about.”

‘Hunted’ begins on BBC1 on 4 October

Examiner: Frank Spotnitz on how 'The X-Files', Hitchcock paved the way for 'Hunted'

Frank Spotnitz on how ‘The X-Files’, Hitchcock paved the way for ‘Hunted’
Danielle Turchiano

[Original article here]

“When The X‑Files started, the word ‘mythology’ was not in the vocabulary to describe television, and I think we kind of stumbled upon the whole method of telling stories that way by accident, because of Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy at the end of season one,” Frank Spotnitz considered how his old series paved the way for his new one, Hunted for Cinemax.

“But it amazed me, because the Internet was just sort of coming online at that point, and I remember news groups that I would look at at the beginning of the second season of The X‑Files to see how observant fans were. These are the die-hard fans, not most of the audience, but I think we began to realize that you could thread clues, and you could wait quite a long time. You could wait sometimes two or three years in the case of The X‑Files before you picked up that thread again, and not only would people follow it, they would love you for it, because you were rewarding their loyalty and their intelligence.

“It’s hard to think back to the mid ’90s, but at that point, people thought television was not particularly sophisticated, and I realized just the opposite was true. It’s very hard to be as smart as your audience, and so it emboldened us to be very ambitious with the ideas we tried to convey…I took many, many things away from The X-Files experience, but the main things were: Be ambitious, be as great as you can be, and trust in the intelligence of your audience.”

Those are the things Spotnitz is now trying to do with Hunted, a certainly ambitious series shot and set in Europe about a woman (Melissa George) working for a secretive and elite espionage service. Since she is not working for a government but instead a private sector, questions start to set in regarding if she can actually trust the intelligence she is given and the people hiring her.

“In our show, the reality is these operatives are not told who their employers are, so if you’re trying to do a paranoid spy thriller, as well, I thought that’s really interesting, not knowing. Should you succeed? Maybe it would better if you fail– better for the world if you failed. So I met many, many people who are in this business and they have many very frightening stories to tell, and I put as many of them as I could into the first season!” Spotnitz revealed.

Calling the spy genre one of his favorites and referencing The Prisoner, The Saint, Mission Impossible, I Spy, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the James Bond franchise as his influences, Spotnitz wanted to take storytelling back to a simpler time with Hunted. He pointed to Hitchcock as that kind of master of paranoia and suspense in genre storytelling, hoping to model himself and his projects on some of Hitchcock’s early (silent) works.

“I would always rather do it without dialogue,” he bravely admitted. “I would always rather let the picture tell the story. And that’s one of the first things you give up usually in series television because there is so little time and so little money, you’re churning through directors, you can’t trust it will work without dialogue. In this case, [though] I was incredibly fortunate to have great directors, beginning with S.J. Clarkson, who directed the first two hours, and we worked so closely together…we didn’t need to have words. And so there are long sessions with no dialogue, and to me, it’s pure; it’s cinema.”

Additionally, Spotnitz pointed out that this kind of storytelling allows the audience to be more engaged with the show because they’re not being “spoon-fed everything.”

“There are things in this show where it happens in an episode and you don’t know why that was there, and you wait two or three episodes and you go, ‘Oh, that’s the connection.’ And we’re not telling you; we’re trusting you as a viewer that you’ll piece it together, and it’s more exciting, I think,” Spotnitz considered.

Over the course of eight, one-hour episodes, Hunted will visit Morocco, Scotland, Tangier, and London, to name a few, each time delivering a little bit more information about what’s really going on with the greater mystery in which George is mixed up.

“It’s one of those shows that when you get to episode eight, if you were to go back and watch episode 1 again, you’d see it was all there,” Spotnitz previewed. “It was all hidden in plain sight. You know, it’s not a mystery that’s cheating, withholding pieces. It was there if you were paying attention, and that’s very satisfying for me as a viewer when I watch mysteries like that, so there’s a lot of clues in those images that will make sense when you get to the end.

“We wanted it to be cinematic, and that meant really going to the locations, [too]” Spotnitz, who credited Cinemax for their support in allowing his big ideas to come to fruition, explained.

“It’s a lot harder and a lot more expensive, but you see it. I mean, it looks fantastic, and you see London in a way that people, especially in America, that you rarely get a chance to see. So it was really exciting for me to have the opportunity, especially as an American, to go to Europe and have the opportunity to take advantage of all these unbelievable locations that we just don’t get to see that often in this country.”

Hunted premieres on Cinemax in October 2012.

ScreenDaily: The X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz talks new UK spy series Hunted, working in the UK and a feature sequel to The X-Files

The X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz talks new UK spy series Hunted, working in the UK and a feature sequel to The X-Files
Andreas Wiseman

[Original article here]

Frank Spotnitz talks to Screen about new UK spy-thriller series Hunted – produced by Kudos and BBC – and the UK as an exciting hub for big-budget TV.

The X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz was at MIPTV this week to discuss his new UK spy series Hunted, produced by Kudos Film & Television and the BBC for BBC One in the UK and HBO sister channel Cinemax in the US.

Hunted, directed by SJ Clarkson, sees Melissa George star as a British spy working for a private intelligence agency. After an attempt on her life by a colleague, George’s character Sam goes undercover not knowing who tried to kill her or who to trust.

Adam Rayner, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Stephen Dillane co-star in the thriller which according to US writer Spotnitz has a budget “competitive with US network shows and one very generous for the UK.” Shooting was on location in London, Wales, Scotland and Morocco.

Researching the show was an eye-opening experience for the London-based creator, writer and executive producer of the show: “It was a challenge at times because of how secretive private spy agencies are. It’s not an area I was very aware of until I went looking for it. Most private contractors don’t want to be noticed. Their websites are dry and boring and they don’t want the wrong kind of attention. I talked to people who run these companies in the US, UK and Switerland and then I researched the type of personality working at them.”

Spotnitz initially developed the series with The X-Files star Gillian Anderson but when she was unavailable they selected Melissa George from around 200 actresses who read for the part.

Is there something of the Dana Scully about Sam? “If you look at Dana and Sam on paper you might say they are different, but yes, they are both strong, very capable women. Sam’s world is dangerous and threatening, to a greater extent even than Dana’s. She has to construct a wall of invulnerability.”

After working with Kudos on Hunted and Left Bank Pictures on 2011 series Strike Back, Spotnitz sees scope for further collaboration in the UK, which he believes represents an increasingly attractive option for US and international writers and producers: “I now live in London with my family. It is really exciting being here at the moment. A lot more production is going to take place on this side of the world and sold back to US and elsewhere. The talent and location here are thrilling. So many writers I speak to in the US are jealous of my opportunity here so I’m not in a hurry to leave. The tax credit will be a huge help to the local industry.”

“Europe is in a unique position because TV co-productions make a lot of business sense and can be very creatively exciting if they maintain integrity,” continued Spotnitz. “The idea must be international but not cynical. The production shouldn’t be cobbled together for financing purposes. The last three years the US market is opening up to internationally produced content. The broadcasters there are looking to do them now because they can be bargains.”

Spotnitz is currently working across a slate of TV and features, one of which is long-in-the-works crime-thriller The Star Chamber. He also continues to push for a sequel to 1998 feature The X Files: “There is a very active and relentless fan campaign for a last movie. I do feel like it would be a terrible shame if that didn’t happen. It feels wrong not to give it an ending around the alien colonisation of earth. David [Duchovny] and Gillian [Anderson] feel the same. I have a clear idea of how it would go and I’ve been talking to Chris Carter about it for a long time. I’ll keep banging the drum whenever I meet the Fox guys [the studio holds the sequel rights but was disappointed by the original’s lackluster box office].”

Hunted will air in the UK and US in autumn 2012.