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Primeval: Talking about an Evolution

Sci-Fi action series Primeval is entering a new (world) state of evolution. With production now taking place in Canada, Impact teases the past and the future as we talk exclusively to executive producers Martin Wood and Gillian Horvath…

 

Once upon a time ‘extinction events’ were fairly rare and usually involved slamming large meteorites into the Earth. However over millions of years, the planet and mankind evolved and television programmers acquired the same devastating dark arts… realising that with just a moment of whimsy, the stroke of a key or the sending of internal memo they could snuff out entire worlds and cult shows in their prime to make way for other more profitable species of entertainment.  Oh, Firefly and the like, we hardly knew ye…

Primeval, launched in 2007, was one of those action shows always battling on the edge of such event horizons. With a compact and bijou, but loyal, passionate family-driven fanbase in the UK and beyond, it was a notable, if not stellar domestic ratings success that was originally (and perhaps inadvisably) publicised as ITV’s answer to the BBC‘s dominance of Saturday nights with Doctor Who.  The truth was, it was a fun but very different show and much more action-orientated (original star Dougie Henshall preffered an A-Team metaphor rather than Who). Yet at a time of severe austerity measures in the industry, that made it a very expensive show to produce – following a diverse group of scientists and animal experts as they tried to discover why ‘anomalies’ were opening up linking different time periods and letting through exotic prehistoric creatures on an almost weekly basis was not a cheap ride. The CGI budget alone could probably feed several free-range, ravenous reality series based around a simpler  ‘Jerseysaurus’ for a decade.

Just when it looked like the show wouldn’t be able to continue past its third season (ironically its longest number of consecutive episodes in one season – 10), a deal was made between terrestrial channel ITV and satellite broadcaster Watch, BBCWorldwide, and Germany’s ProSieban to share costs and alternate first-broadcasting rights. The ever-evolving Primeval had been reprieved and went on for another year  (a shortened/combined fourth and fifth season, technically) of tracking less-than-wee timorous beasties. But costs were continuing to rise, audiences – tempted by more channel choice and multimedia – were harder to increase and it looked as if the show, like the infamous T-Rex before it, may have roared loudly but run its evolutionary course.  

Not so. In an almost Darwinian twist Primeval has evolved once more to suit its needs, taking prehistoric wing from its British mainland roots to British Columbia. Canada's Omni Film Productions and Impossible Pictures in the UK have combined resources to take the next step – and it's of the transatlantic variety.  In Vancouver, in those  very buildings that once housed the mighty Stargate sets, a different kind of portal is being worked upon, a new team of crypto-zoological adventurers and new monsters are gearing up for more confrontations.  
 
Welcome to, quite literally,  Primeval: New World

Fans will be glad to hear that much of the central premise and sense of adventure will remain intact, but in this Vancouver-set location, the new team we’ll be following is thrown together more by extraordinary, dangerous happenstance than duty. They don’t quite have the resources of the original’s ARC base or all those lessons to fall back on. Like the audience, some of them will be experiencing the anomalies and their dangers for the first time, learning what‘s happening and why. Others… well, some may have more complex histories and agendas…

New recruits (and potential dino-fodder, if they’re not careful) include entrepreneur and inventor Evan Cross (played by Eureka!’s Niall Matter), predator attack expert Dylan Weir (The Vampire Diairies’ Sara Canning), Ange Finch (Sanctuary/Jake 2.0’s Miranda Frigon) Ken Leeds (Hot-tub Time Machine’s Geoff Gustafuson), Toby Lance (Smallville's Crystal Lowe) and Mac Rendell (played by former EastEnders actor Danny Rahim). Look closely on Twitter and fan blogs and you’ll see photos of the original show’s Andrew Lee Potts (as Connor Temple) on set for the pilot. (Worst. Kept. Secret. Ever).

There are other familiar genre names involved in the show’s initial thirteen-episode run. Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG1, Sanctuary) is readying to direct (her first series where she won’t have to do double-duty in front of the camera) and in Bridge Studios’ mission control, executive producers Martin Wood and Gillian Horvath – who have an entire raft of ‘Hollywood North’ shows to their name over the last fifteen years and are fans of the original Primeval – are having fun shaping all the prehistorical (and sometimes pre-hysterical) aspects of the spin-off…

Which explains why they’re stifling grins at the thought that – despite all the significant and dazzling bells and whistles that are being added in post-production – they’ve just had Chuck Campbell (their pre-post-production-effects dinosaur stand-in) worrying the wildlife in the city’s famous Stanley Park…

“I had to put the ‘raptor’ out in the middle of this field and for visual reference. Chuck goes out there in his full grey outfit and mask and the ball he holds on a stick… and he’s standing there… and I suddenly realise that people from the road can see HIM but won’t be able to see the film crew,” Martin laughs. “ So Chuck is just a guy out there in a weird outfit and I’m shouting ’Okay, now run like a raptor!’ and so he’s creeping towards us.  But no-one watching would have known what he was doing . We could have made him just dance for us! The dailies will be hilarious…”  As will the inevitable police reports.

But when all is finished – and it’s well underway – the CGI aspect of the series will be at least as significant and dramatic as it was in the original version. Martin and Gillian say there’s been a lot of time, skill and deliberate effort to make sure there’s a careful balance between strong visuals, believable action and solid character-building. They’ve  already seen the rough-cut of Episode 1 and are pleased with the result.

“”Whenever I see a cut, even a rough editor’s assembly of the scenes, I’m already seeing what I envisioned on the set. To the credit of the VFX houses that I’ve worked with, I’ve never once been let down. Not once. It’s always  better than what I envisioned,” Martin explains. 

“Even though the actors are walking around the office in their outfits beforehand… when watching dailies it feels like these people are already becoming their characters. Yes, I’m looking forward to the dinosaurs being put in for specific scenes which are ‘dinosaur-heavy’, but in those scenes without dinosaurs, they’re pretty much finished and as Martin says it all feels very real…” Gillian agrees. 

Having worked on the likes of Highlander, various Stargates, Painkiller Jane and Sanctuary between them, they’re braced for passionate scrutiny from the existing and new fan base and welcome it. Both say that the show will have a slightly darker, sexier look to reflect it’s later slot on the schedule (‘yes, our dinosaurs will be nearly NAKED!’ Martin jokes) but equally wants to reassure fans that while deliberately having to carve its own niche and teach some old monsters some new tricks, it is actively honouring the original British show and able to comfortably co-exist in a slightly different corner of the same universe.

“I don’t think there was ever a ‘don’t do’ list we had. But there were also things that we thought were very successful and had worked very well and were suitable for our show and we’ve expanded on those. Our Primeval will have a slightly later time-slot and isn’t specifically a ‘family’ show, necessarily. It’ll be a bit of a more broad audience in terms of how we present our characters and situations…” he explains. 

The show will begin broadcast of its initial thirteen episodes on Canada’s SPACE channel towards the end of the year and UK’s satellite station Watch has just confirmed it will be showing the series in Britain soon after. (Watch has become a notable purchaser of international series, recently nabbing the rights to Grimm and Alcatraz). There’s less chance of the UK version of Primeval returning directly, though all UK episodes to date are now available on DVD and Warner Bros. is currently working on its own big-screen version of the concept. However, like the recent Doctor Who potential movie news, it is not expected  (as things stand) to have ANY direct connection to either existing Primeval series to date. 
 
Whatever the future of investigating the past, it seems the ‘doyouthinkhesaurus’  (ouch!) is currently very much alive and well and in good Transatlantic hands…

There will be more from the set closer to broadcast date…

(PRIMEVAL PHOTOS: Bettina Strauss)