TV - Intergalactic

With all episodes of Intergalactic available from April 30th, read an interview with the series' writer/creator Julie Gearey and Executive Producer Iona Vrolyk...

From the fringes of outer space to the depths of human emotion, Intergalactic is an action packed, characterful, science-fiction show with its feet firmly on the ground. Written by award-winning showrunner Julie Gearey, Intergalactic tells the story of a young cop and galactic pilot - Ash - who has her glittering career ripped out from under her when she is wrongly convicted of a treasonous crime. A quest for freedom, Intergalactic is a prison break drama like no other full of adventure, action and intrigue.

Ash is sentenced to exile on a prison planet and loaded onto a prison spaceship – The Hemlock - for transfer. Ash never reaches the prison colony as there is a mutiny on board the Hemlock, staged by her fellow inmates. With the flight crew dead, mob leader Tula Quik is intent of reaching the free world – Arcadia – with her gang. And Ash Harper is the pilot they need to fly them there.

As the gang go ‘on the run’ across the galaxy, they will travel to many planets, make friends and encounter dangerous enemies, all the time with the authorities on their tail. A the journey continues, Ash begins to re-evaluate her dangerous cohorts; could it be that this group of female fugitives are on the wrong side of the law, but the right side of history? A female prison gang show with an epic galactic setting, the further the escapees travel from home the closer they come to understanding who they truly are. And as they reluctantly learn to rely on one another, this disparate band of criminals will be fighting for their shared future in their ultimate bid for freedom.

Here's the interview with writer and creator Julie Gearey and Executive Producer Iona Vrolyk.

Tell us about the creation of Intergalactic

Julie: As sort of punters and as consumers, we’re big fans of Science Fiction. I love the Marvel Universe; I love Star Trek as a series and love Star Wars. We kept thinking ‘is it possible to do that as a long form series in the British TV market?’ The shows that we’ve done before are quite naturalistic, realistic and they’re always female ensemble shows. We thought ‘how far can we take that, in terms of a group of women and putting women at the front of their own stories in a really addictive environment?’. It felt like quite a natural leap for us.

Iona: I think Julie writes brilliantly amazing truthful characters and ensemble shows. The combination of that is quite a rare thing in the UK. Thinking about applying that to a big genre, and doing it in Science Fiction, was exciting for us. It meant that we had a massive canvas to tell those stories. But it felt like, when we were researching the genre and seeing the other kind of sci-fi shows, maybe sometimes the creator behind it was more interested in the world building than the characters. I think, what was exciting for us was thinking, ‘let’s approach this as though it’s not Science Fiction, in terms of who these people are and making sure they feel truthful and human,’ and I think that’s what Julie’s script does brilliantly and what the cast we’ve assembled are bringing together.

Julie: That’s the thing, just because you are light years away from home, you are still you. You are still human, your impulses are still human and your relationships with other people are still human. So the thing has been fining psychologically nuanced characters within a nuanced environment. And not just leaning towards what the genre provides us in terms of action, large scale canvases and taking characters to other worlds. I think it’ll be difficult to go back from this, because it’s like ‘what show do you get a canvas bigger than this?’. It’s a thrill.

What research did you do?

Iona: When we sat down and started work on Intergalactic, one of the big things that Julie talked about was wanting to make the show feel grounded. Historically, when we’ve developed shows together, they tend to be social realism pieces. We did a show called Prisoners Wives a few years ago, we did a tremendous about of research into the criminal justice system and spent time in prisons. But when you’re doing a show that’s set in space, in an imagined future with science fiction at the heart of it, obviously it’s much harder to access and research it. But we were still very determined to approach the story telling and the world building in the same way. We approached Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who we knew from her television work.

Julie: She’s like the new Patrick Moore. She does the Sky at Night on the BBC. She’s been incredible, because we were self-acknowledged idiots when it comes to science. I mean there’s not a science qualification between us. So she’s come on and made the science at the heart of our show real. Science fiction fans can watch it, scientists can watch it. Obviously there’s a leap of imagination, but the science is at the heart of our show.

Iona: What she brought to it was a consistency to the rules of our world. She understood that while we can’t currently travel intergalactically, she understands if we had certain elements and fuel, how would we be able to. Theoretically our science is possible if we were to have New Aurum.

Julie: We’ve kept Maggie very close to the show. She advised the production designer, in terms of the design of the spaceship. We’ve kept Dr Maggie across the show and also, she does have a secret appearance in the show.

Tell us about working with Sky on Intergalactic.

Iona: Sky were the broadcaster that were like ‘we would love to make this show,’ and they’ve made it possible for us. I think one of the thrills behind the scenes of making this show, was collecting a team of creatives that do have the visual imagination and production expertise to be able to create this show for us. The moment we got Kieron Hawkes, our lead director, on board, and we put him in a room with Mark Geraghty, the production designer, it suddenly felt like we had the right brains on this show, and we knew that they could deliver Julie’s amazing scripts.

Julie: That’s the joy of working on a show like this because we feel like we’re very much at the heart of that creative process, but it is a massive team sport. It is a privilege to work with people of that calibre and go ‘this is what I see in my head, how is that possible?’. And we have assembled a team that are like ‘yeah, it is virtually impossible, but we will build it’. That’s been extraordinary.

Iona: It does become a real collaboration, and a real team sport between all of us. For example, the conception of New London. We always knew that this is a British show, and it was important that we had that anchor in a world that was recognisable for a British audience. But we knew it would be futuristic, we knew it would be a version of New London. The original idea was that current London was protected by a massive sea wall. It was only when the director and the production designer came on board and we started location scouting that we found an amazing location in Valencia, Spain, that the idea of our new London, sitting on top of our current London, came to fruition. It’s absolutely building on what Julie imagines and then having the collaboration of the right people to bring it to life and realise it. So it ends up being, in essence, what we always envisaged, but not exactly how we thought it would be.

Where did you go for inspiration for Intergalactic?

Julie: We do obviously look within the genre of Science Fiction, but we look at other shows, where the female relationships are strong. Orange is The New Black was a reference, in terms of women in an enclosed environment finding ways to live with each other.

Iona: It’s really interesting because part of my role is communicating outwardly to the industry, being involved in the marketing of the show and being able to communicate what the tone is. I decided to really limit the science fiction references because it’s too easy then to compare it to other shows. Sometimes with projects the hardest thing, but the most important thing, to communicate is the tone. It’s not the fact that it’s in a spaceship that sets us apart. It’s not the fact that it’s a female led show that sets it apart. It’s the fact that it’s written by Julie. It’s the fact it’s directed by Keiron and it’s the fact that it’s got this very particular tone. Ridley Scott has always been a really strong reference for us. Just because of the way he gets such intimate characterisation in epic worlds.

Tell us about the casting process.

Julie: We are both executive producers of this show. The show is very much a collaboration. Obviously, our lead director Kieron was leading the casting process, but we’ve worked with Kieron before. We have a very close and open relationship with him. There was a lot of discussion when we were casting the show. When you’re casting an ensemble show, we always say ‘it’s like building a football team.’ You never cast in isolation, because it’s about how a character is, in relation to the rest of the ensemble. So that was a very long, open, collaborative process. You don’t spend three years developing a show to step back from that process, it’s really important to place ourselves at the heart of those conversations.

Iona: Yes, it was always a very conscious decision that we wanted Intergalactic to be a show that can break new female talent. Kharmel Cochrane is our casting director and she did an amazing job of embracing that and putting people on camera for us and auditioning people that we’ve never seen before. Diany, who plays Genevieve, had worked with our casting director, only doing commercial work before. So, for her getting this job and walking onto a massive set for the first time was amazing. It’s been really exciting and rewarding to be able to be a part of young actors’ careers while also working alongside much more experienced actors.

Julie: Sky have been incredibly supportive of that. I mean that’s been part of our brief from Sky. To be able to look in unusual places to find new talent.

What did you find the most challenging?

Julie: I think the challenge of this production is the sheer scale of it. We’ve never worked on a show of this size. Our art department is bigger than any of the crews we’ve worked on before. You want there to be an artisanal relationship to the material and not for it to become this unwieldy production. So it’s been really important to keep the communication lines strong, to keep collaborating, to keep communicating. But also, not to lose sight of why we’re telling the story. Despite the design, despite the technology, despite the fights, the science and the SFX; it is about people responding as people do. So, it’s a case of keeping your arms around it enough but also allowing other people to do their best work.

Iona: I think the scale of the show is hugely challenging and I think what comes with that is the duration of the shoot. So, it’s amazing to be able to have eight episodes and to tell all of these character stories over eight episodes. On other shows, sometimes you felt that you have to tell the stories too quickly because you don’t have a big enough canvas. But what that also means is that this is a marathon. This show was two years in development before we started filming. The filming itself is the best part of 6 months; those are really long days. And the shoot itself, because it has got so many stunts and action pieces, also meant that the days are incredibly technical. So I think it’s a challenging show because it is so technically demanding behind the scenes and I think the duration of it, means trying to keep everyone buoyant and excited moving through. And remembering that when you’re filming on Day 89, on camera it needs to look as exciting and fresh as Day 1 has been a challenge, but I think we’ve pulled it off.

What was it like working together on the show?

Iona: Julie and I started working together, nearly a decade ago now on Secret Diary of a Call Girl. I was a script editor on that project and Julie was the most experienced writer on that show. Julie was storylining and leading that series. Since then, I think this is our fourth production together.

Julie: Writing television can be quite a lonely business. There’s a lot of time where you’re on your own, in your head. I’ve been lucky to find Iona and find someone that I have that creative synthesis with. What she enables me to do, is to be very free in my imagination, but within a very strong, supportive structure. I think there is something uniquely female or feminist about the relationship. We try not to let ego and arrogance to get in the way of that, and the best idea will rise to the top. So we feel that our work comes out of our relationship and the conversations that we have. But as we talked about before, it’s also about being open and collaborative and letting other people into that vision.

Iona: I think that the ego thing is really key, actually. I think one of the important parts of my role when we bring other writers onto the show and we have a writer’s room, is to make sure that it feels like a safe creative space. I know that people often say that there are no stupid ideas but let’s be honest, there are a lot of stupid ideas! But the ability to be able to say to someone ‘that’s a stupid idea’ and to move on is really important. I think that its only when people are relaxed and engaged, you’re able to physically immerse yourself in a role and then the stories rise up.

Julie: The ethos of our show, is about a lot of dysfunctional, difficult people, coming together and finding a collective endeavour. Well, that’s the metaphor of making series television. So, we try and reflect that, but one reflects the other. So no one on our show and no one in our team is more important than the next person.

What do you think audiences will enjoy most?

Julie: I hope that our audience are not just science fiction fans. Primarily, I made this show for my daughter, who was looking for long form science fiction. She loves Star Wars; she wants to see that in the series. So I hope that it will be for people that enjoy the Science Fiction genre, but not exclusively for them.

Iona: I think when we set out to make this show, we wanted to make sure that we were making a product that can reach as many people as possible. It is unashamedly a mainstream proposition. I think what is brilliant about the show is that Julie’s created amazing characters. They are grounded, they are real, albeit set 150 years in the future, on alien planets. They are still facing the same kind of emotional struggles that all of us would face, so I hope it’s going to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Images & info - Sky One
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