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The Capture Series 2

Ben Chanan

Writer and Director

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Can you really believe what you see? Conspiracy, surveillance and deep-fake drama The Capture returned to BBC One for a second series this week. We caught up with the show's creator and writer Ben Chanan to find out more about his inspiration.

Watch The Capture now on BBC iPlayer

Watch a trailer for Series 2 of The Capture (Seeing is deceiving. A rising politician brings greater risks than anyone can imagine.)

Did you always know there was going to be a Series 2 of The Capture?

I certainly didn’t know there would be a Series 2, but we hoped there would be. I tried to write a story for Series 1 that was self-contained but had the potential to go again. I didn’t want to presume and wanted to give the audience a complete story across the series – Sean’s story. I left the door ajar on Rachel Carey’s story and by the time we’d finished editing series 1 we felt pretty confident that we would go again, so we leaned into the ambiguity of Rachel’s final moment at the end of episode 6.

Hedging your bets about whether a drama will be recommissioned is no bad thing! I don’t want to leave things so open that they’re dissatisfying for the audience.

What were the challenges you faced as a writer in creating a second series for The Capture?

From a writing point of view I’d carried the idea of series 1 around in my head for years and years. It was something that was going around in my head while I was going from directing job to directing job. Then I finally got a chance to sit down and write it. By the time this happened I had the idea and the story pretty much fleshed out. When it came to series 2 I had nothing really, we needed a whole new story. I had this vague idea that Rachel was going to go into the Correction and be a mole while she was in there but I’d wrapped up Sean’s story. So the challenge was getting that new story created much quicker than series 1.

To help with this I put together a writers’ room to flesh out the story. That was one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. I had worked in a writers' room once before on a show for Sky, but I was still fairly new to the concept. I found it a really gratifying process coming up with the new character of Isaac Turner (played by Paapa Essiedu) and deciding on his story arc. We pretty much beat out that story in a week and I was able to thread Rachel Carey’s (Holliday Grainger) narrative through that.

Isaac Turner (PAAPA ESSIEDU) in The Capture (Credit: BBC/Heyday/NBC Universal Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz)

How does a writers’ room work in this country?

Well on The Capture I filled the role of showrunner. We also had four or five other writers and several ideas people/development people in the room. I was always going to write the full scripts for the show but thought 'Why not get some other great minds in to help balance the ideas?'. We set ourselves the goal in the room of creating the character arc for Isaac, as I already knew what Carey’s arc would be, but wanted her to have a new case which would form the spine of the second series. By the end of the week we had a rough six act structure which I then took away and turned into full scripts.

On the other show I’m doing for Sky, (Then You Run) it was a more shared experience working in the room with four writers, I wrote two scripts, two scripts were co-written and two writers wrote other scripts. As that’s an adaptation it’s a bit easier to divvy it up and to be objective about it. With The Capture it’s my completely original idea, so it’s harder to share as it’s all in my head somewhere - but it helps to have others to map it out.

I’ve also benefitted in having a great script editor in Emily Iredale and story consultant Daniel Noy. The writers’ room lasted a week but those two continued working with me after the writers' room week and read every draft or half draft of the scripts and bounced ideas between us. That was really vital for me.

They also helped with the research aspect. We have a few experts who we consult but when I’ve got my head down writing the questions go via Emily to the expert consultants.

DCI Rachel Carey (HOLLIDAY GRAINGER) in The Capture (Credit: BBC/Heyday/NBC Universal Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz)

How do you get to be part of a writers’ room?

Well this sounds obvious, but being a writer helps! I know that sounds like a chicken and egg situation. We do want and need young and new voices in writers’ rooms. A newer writer won't necessarily get a script commission out of being in that room, but they get to be a presence in the room bringing good energy. We're looking for people who are inquisitive and ask the right questions and throw ideas around. All writers’ rooms benefit from having someone new, with a fresh perspective. Some of the writers we worked with this time had not yet been commissioned in television but were people like young playwrights looking to get into TV. They get a week to learn from people who have had things commissioned for television and we get the benefit of their fresh perspective.

However to get there in the first place there’s no getting around writing a great play and/or spec script and through that gaining an agent.

DCI Rachel Carey (HOLLIDAY GRAINGER), Gemma Garland (LIA WILLIAMS) in The Capture (Credit: BBC/Heyday/NBC Universal Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz)

In your interview for us about the subjects of Series 1 (fake news, facial recognition software etc), you said that “we’re not just talking about what’s going on right now but also advancing the conversation” – what’s it like to look back three years down the line and see how the world has progressed since? 

It's such a relief to now be able to talk properly about series 1! The conspiracy isn’t revealed until towards the end, so in all the publicity and interviews it was like being muzzled as you couldn’t really talk about it.

I suppose what I meant was that Big Brother isn’t just watching you, in that sense we’re advancing the conversation. Most surveillance dramas are about the horrors of being watched and when you hear about how many cameras we have here in the UK people's horrified reaction is generally ‘Oh my God our privacy is being taken away'. I suppose what The Capture says is ‘it’s worse than that’! Never mind your privacy being taken away but what if someone could impersonate you and manipulate your truth and your image and your narrative. What if fake news isn’t just about news but is about the justice system and politics. The horror of having all these CCTV cameras and relying on all this video-based evidence is that it can be manipulated.

I think the other thing we couldn’t talk about before is the moral dilemma at the heart of The Capture which was really only unpacked in Episode 6 of series 1. As I learnt when I was making documentaries, there are times when the intelligence services have the knowledge that an attack is being planned but they don’t have the evidence to lock away the suspects. They’re living in this constant game of risk where they’re trying to gather enough evidence before the terror suspects become terrorists.

The inspiration for the whole show was me thinking ‘How can I dramatise that? What if someone were to invent a way to close that gap?' To say "We do have evidence that a person has just purchased an explosive device. We have them on camera discussing it." I think all of those dilemmas and challenges are still very much part of the British counter-terrorism landscape.

DI Nadia Latif (GINNY HOLDER), DC Chloe Tan (TESSA WONG) in The Capture (Credit: BBC/Heyday/NBC Universal Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz)

How do you keep up with these developments?

That’s through really good research and a great script editor. There’s more information and research than I ever need.

One of our key experts is a guy who used to work in counter-terrorism in SO15. He really knows his stuff and he still has his finger on the pulse about the latest kinds of threats. Also by me being a news junky, scouring the news every day. And anything that’s remotely The Capture related also gets sent to me because people are like ‘this is like your show’.

In the Series 1 blog post you also said “I don’t think I can direct everything that I write” - You directed the first series of The Capture but not this second series. What was the decision behind that and how did it affect the way you worked as the writer?

I was writing 'Then You Run' for Sky at the same time as The Capture and was juggling the two projects and there was just not enough time. I thought it was time to try showrunning without directing. I had some great directors (James Kent and Philippa Langdale) so I was really blessed with directors who got the tone of the show – that’s the hardest job for a director - to service the tone of a script.

Danny Hart (BEN MILES) in The Capture (Credit: BBC/Heyday/NBC Universal Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz)

How would you describe that tone of The Capture?

Something slightly heightened. It’s never sci-fi. Everything is technically possible but it’s not a documentary, we try and make it really entertaining and really fun. Of course we take it to its most dramatic and far-fetched possibilities. It’s a drama but still remains possible. I thought ‘Let’s be deliberately really scary and make a really great genre-piece’. There’s even tones of horror with the invisible assassin. There’s a moment when one of the characters says that she’s seen a ghost. I think the audience knows that we’re never going fully into that horror-genre territory but I didn’t mind just in that moment teasing it so it’s spooky as hell as the main characters can’t explain what they’re seeing. In that moment for those characters it kind of is a horror.

What do you see as the distinction between telling this story as a drama or a documentary?

The ability to fictionalise. I became aware of this very real dilemma at the heart of British intelligence work – or not even a dilemma, just a fact - that they need evidence to lock people away but sometimes they’re in a position where they have intelligence but not enough evidence. I thought the way to dramatise that is to fictionalise an extra element, which is where Correction comes in. Somebody, whether it’s China, Russia, the USA or the UK, says actually there’s an invention where we can deep fake and make people do the things that you know they are doing but you haven't got it on camera. I think that puts the audience in an ethical dilemma. If you know somebody is about to cause an explosion but you don’t have the evidence of them buying or making a bomb, if you could create evidence of them making the bomb – that you know they have made - to stop the bomb going off by you arresting them before it happens, that’s a great thought-crime/morality dilemma.

Watch The Capture now on BBC iPlayer

Read our interview with Ben Chanan for Series 1 of The Capture

Read the complete scripts for Series 1 of The Capture in our script library

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