The history books will credit much of the growth of Wales’ TV industry to Tranter and Gardner. Having made significant contributions to Welsh-based successes like Doctor Who and Torchwood, their next steps are hotly anticipated.
Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner know a thing or two about drama. The former BBC television executives also know about the dramatic impact the Welsh landscape has on screen.
It is one of the reasons they decided to set up Bad Wolf, their own production company, in Los Angeles and South Wales. “There were clear professional reasons why Wales, including the attitude of the crews and their spirit,” says Tranter. “Also, the range of landscapes offered. On top of that was the personal journey that Julie and I had been on together, starting with Doctor Who in Wales.” The pair, along with writer Russell T Davies, were the driving force behind resurrecting the Doctor Who series in 2004 and created Torchwood. Both shows were produced by BBC Wales and were filmed in Cardiff.
Their success has given birth to a thriving film and TV production industry that stretches across South Wales.
In 2009, Tranter and Gardner moved to Los Angeles to join BBC Worldwide, where they were responsible for shows that garnered 10 Emmy nominations, such as Dancing with the Stars, Life Below Zero and Getting On.
They also commissioned three seasons of historical drama Da Vinci’s Demons for Starz and Fox. “When ‘Da Vinci’s Demons’ was starting, people were saying it could be filmed in Canada and Eastern Europe. We said, ‘why not Wales?’,” Tranter points out.
So, they made it at Bay Studios in Swansea, a former Visteon car parts factory. The show has subsequently been sold to more than 125 countries, and generated a production spend of more than £70 million across three seasons. Past successes and familiarity with the pool of talent, locations and politicians in Cardiff Bay meant that when the pair began to talk about setting up Bad Wolf, Tranter says “it felt almost inevitable” that they would do it in Wales.
“We knew the crew and locations in Wales are unbeatable,” Gardner says. But, she acknowledged the move was also personal. “For me, I grew up in the Neath valley,” she says. “I was very fortunate to work all over the world. But there is something very special about coming back to Wales. It’s that Welsh word, ‘hiraeth’, or longing for one’s homeland.”
Bad Wolf has lined up three productions, which start shooting from May 2017. One will be an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials for the BBC. The pair are currently scouting around for a studio in Wales for filming and are in close contact with the Welsh Government to find a solution.
“We are very happy with Welsh Government,” says Tranter. “I’m sure they will get there with us on this. They are very ambitious and accessible and they can see what can be achieved in terms of job creation.
“It feels like a genuine partnership. It’s everything we hoped for on both sides. They understand TV and have worked with us on a business plan that allows the company to be creatively free. Gardner believes having a devolved government in Cardiff Bay has helped to drive forward the growth of creative industries, like film and TV.
“I think the devolved government gives industry a more personal experience because you are dealing with a smaller group of people,” she says.
Gardner notes the Welsh TV industry has come a long way since she first started, when there were a few successful regional TV productions, but very few shows that made it to the national stage.
“There were very few dramas from Wales with a firm foothold on network television. Now dramas shot in Wales have a significant life both nationally and internationally.”