Jon Brown interview for Channel 4's Loaded
Explain a little bit about the series – what’s the premise?
It’s basically what happens to four male friends when they sell a company and become overnight millionaires, and they go through the wringer. My feeling was that British audiences wouldn’t want to watch a show about young, attractive people enjoying being really rich, and enjoying the fruits of their work. So my starting point was “How much pain can I put these people through? How difficult can I make their lives? And what kind of interesting ways can we find to punish them, to make their lives tricky and complicated?”
It’s an adaptation of an existing show, but it’s fair to say that this is rather different, isn’t it?
Yeah. Originally this was an Israeli show, and it had a sort of aspirational feel to it. It was about a group of four young men who sold their start-up and came into a load of money. Watching it, I felt that British audiences would struggle to get on board with a show that felt similar to Entourage – high end and glossy and aspirational, celebrating their wealth in a way that I don’t think we would stomach over here. If you look at American soap operas, they tend to be things like Falcon Crest and Dynasty, with families that are wealthy and upper class, whereas our soaps are more like Coronation Street or EastEnders. We like to see people whose lives are difficult and miserable and real. So that was my starting point. How do we make a show where the audience can sympathise with young people who have loads of money and loads of opportunity? That was my guiding principle throughout. Whatever happens to them needs to be tainted in some way.
Give us an example of what you mean.
So Leon buys a yacht, but then he finds out that the guy who owned it before him shot himself and his wife on board the boat, so it’s tainted. What seemed lovely and incredible, and in Entourage would be the venue for an amazing party where they’d all have a great time, in our version it doesn’t work like that. That’s my experience of most things anyway: Things are never as good as you kind of expect them to be. There’s always a wrinkle, and if you’re a certain personality type, you’ll always focus on that. I heard a story about this guy who had a huge house, and bought a massive glass staircase to go in the middle of it. He had to have it bespoke, and it cost a fortune, and after a couple of months he noticed a tiny scratch on it, and all he could see whenever he looked at the staircase was this scratch. But to replace the scratch was so expensive, he’d basically have to replace the whole staircase. So did he spend millions replacing the staircase because of a 2cm scratch? That says something to me about how a lot of people just have an inability to ever really feel happy with anything.
Had you done an adaptation like this before? Is it harder than coming up with an idea off your own bat?
This is the first adaptation I’ve done, and I think I did find it tricky. I watched all of the Israeli shows – they did two series – and I watched them quite a few times initially. Then I stopped, and I haven’t gone back and watched them for a really long time, because after a while you feel that you need to understand what your version is, and leave the original behind. I also deliberately didn’t engage with the creators of the original version. They obviously did a really good job, and we wouldn’t be here without them, but I felt like I needed some distance. I didn’t really want to have a dialogue with them about the direction I was taking this in, because I didn’t want to be influenced too much.
Did you do much in the way of research?
Yes, I did. I read a lot of stuff. I have a background in video games, I used to be a games journalist when I first started out, so I knew quite a lot about games and the games culture. I knew less about the process of making it, but I’ve got three or four people who I speak to fairly regularly who are games developers. I got their feedback, and encouraged them to be as honest as possible about whether stuff is accurate. I found them really useful, in terms of the specifics of that world, and the language of that world.
Did you speak to anyone who had gone through the experience of an internet start-up?
Yeah. The start-up culture is slightly different. I went and met some people who had experienced that. I met the guy who had sold Friends Reunited, who was lovely and really interesting. He had some great stories. He basically sold it at exactly the right time. I asked him how it had changed his life, and he said it had pretty much stayed the same. He said it took a year to get acclimatised to having that much money. He spent a year of just doing nothing, just trying to get his head around it. I can’t remember how much he made, but it was something like £30 million. But he was friends with the guy that sold Bebo, and he’d sold his for, like, £300 million. So he was always looking up at the next guy, thinking “I’m nothing compared to him.” There’s always someone to look up to, or the next thing to go for.
Did you consider making one or more of the group female? Why did you stick with the male dynamic?
That’s a very good question. We were talking about this subject right up until casting. It was something we kept as an option. In the end, I think it was a feeling that we wanted a male group and to look at the whole angle of male friendship. The onus was to make the female characters strong and have really clear voices. The cast that we managed to attract helped us massively –Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Mary McCormack and Lolly Adefope are so great, and they’re so much embedded in the show. To me, that was really important, because I didn’t want it to be really male, and to be a show about spoilt boys going round having loads of sex. Everyone would hate those people.
How involved were you in the production, and how do you feel about the end product?
I was heavily involved – it’s the first show I’ve done where I’ve been an executive producer. I was across everything. Wasn’t on set as much as I’d have liked, just because the scripts took more time and more work than I’d anticipated they would. But I watched all the rushes, and I was involved in all of the casting and the art direction and that sort of stuff. It was great, it was the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do that. I’m really proud of the end product – I think we’ve delivered a show that I think is funny, and hopefully warm, with likeable characters. The cast is great – we got really lucky with finding the four of them, and that they all got on so well. I think you believe in them as people who have known each other for a really long time. You need to turn up on day one of the first episode and instantly click, and I think they really did. And I don’t think it’s ever saccharine, but one of the things I’m most proud of in this show is that it’s got a real heart to it, and a warmth to it.
One of your characters celebrates his £14m by getting a bespoke golden Viking helmet, and has a bath in champagne. Another invests it all very sensibly. Which route would you go down if you suddenly found yourself with £14m burning a hole in your pocket?
Well, another of them goes out and buys a pair of jeans that he really hates. I think that would be me. It’s like the guy with the glass staircase. I’d probably buy something, I wouldn’t just invest it all, but I’d probably buy something, spend a lot of money on it, and then just hate it. That would be my route, I think – spend it begrudgingly and then not enjoy any of it. I’d have buyer’s remorse immediately.
May 8, 2017 9:45am ET by Channel 4