RTÉ head of drama Jane Gogan has got her eye on the future: Love/Hate has come to a bloody end, and Raw got the chop in 2013, meaning the station currently has no returning series on air. There are projects in development, of course, but Gogan is looking even further down the line through Storyland, RTÉ's search for new creative talent.
Burning Wishes, a black comedy about grave-robbing made by Deadpan Pictures, was launched on the RTÉ Player on Monday. It is the first of five web-only drama projects commissioned by RTÉ through Storyland, with each series consisting of four episodes about six minutes long. The five dramas, which each have a maximum budget of €30,000, were selected from almost 200 production teams that pitched their ideas to the scheme, which is now co-financed by the Irish Film Board.
“We wanted to work with creative media entrepreneurs and get them thinking about television,” says Gogan. The five winning projects mostly come from experienced production companies but involve either new writing, acting or directing talent.
“Some of them will be starting a conversation with us, but will then go and make something completely different,” she says. “Building relationships at a formative stage is really critical. We need to get to know them, and they need to get to know us. Then they will have a better sense of how to pitch.”
This is the fifth iteration of the scheme, which previously included a public voting element, and veterans include the Hardy Bucks, the Screenworks team that made Amber, screenwriter Thomas Martin and in-demand actor Charlie Murphy.
Alongside Deadpan, this year’s winning companies were Stirling Film & Television Productions, Black Sheep Productions, Blinder Films and Fantastic Films, and their dramas, ranging from comedies to sci-fi and crime thrillers, will be added to the RTÉ Player one by one in the weeks ahead.
Gogan says that if RTÉ does more multi-authored dramas (as opposed to those, such as Love/Hate, with a single screenwriter) she would anticipate that Storyland script graduates might be given the opportunity to join those teams.
Writers who are new to television also sometimes learn about script development by shadowing experienced Fair City writers.
For RTÉ, drama co-productions are very much the order of the day – if distributors or other broadcasters come on board with RTÉ projects, or vice versa, it helps spread the risk and the financial load.
But even with co-production financing, drama budgets will never be big enough to get every good idea off the ground. Ireland just doesn't have the right economies of scale, which is another reason why Storyland is important for developing talent, according to Gogan. When producers, writer and actors have works published, it can help them secure agents and build international contacts.
One thing that all future drama commissions will have in common is an ability through the RTÉ Player to attract the kind of viewer that doesn’t normally settle down to RTÉ One, Gogan notes.
"The culture has changed so much," she says. Five years ago, the Player was being used mostly by tech-savvy early adopters, but these days catch-up service streaming adds as much as 15 per cent to the viewership of a drama such as Charlie.
Now that the wig-tastic Haughey show has finished, the next new drama to be seen by viewers will be
, a four-parter written by
and produced for RTÉ by Octagon Films and 152 Productions, with co-funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Set in Wexford, it’s a tale of a community “driven by love, greed, status and revenge”, according to the press release, which admittedly doesn’t narrow it down much.
Next year, there will be a 1916-themed drama, which will go out as part of RTÉ’s commemoration of the Easter Rising. Gogan declines to give details for this project but says it will be “bigger” than a mere one-off special.
As for what else is to come, "most of what we have in development would be for returning series", she says – in other words, the next Raw, or ideally (from a ratings perspective) the next Love/Hate.
But it’s probably fair to assume that gangsters and restaurants won’t feature prominently. Her department operates by the principle “never to repeat ourselves and never to repeat what others are doing”.