Pulse: Simon Heath interview

Ahead of the premier of Pulse on BBC3 tonight, we catch up with producer Simon Heath to discuss pilots, story arcs and the potential series to come…

Ahead of the Thursday premier of Pulse, the Paul Cornell-penned pilot for a proposed medical horror series on BBC3, we caught up with producer Simon Heath to talk pilots, story arcs and the possibility of a future series.

If Pulse does get the go ahead, how long will it take to gear up for a full-length series?

We work on the basis that, from the point at which we get a ‘yes’, we would need roughly six months before we start shooting and editing the rest of the series. Of course, you’re always slightly dictated to by the transmission style of the BBC. Generally, these days, with any broadcaster, they don’t ask, “When will you have it ready for?”

So, in this case, I think we’ll be looking at transmitting in late March or early April of 2011.

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And everyone involved in the pilot has signed up to do the series?

Yes, everyone’s signed up.

Do you see beyond that first series? Is there a wider story arc planned?

Yes, we’ve already talked about what the second series will bring.

How far ahead do you plot the arc on something like Pulse? Do you have an ideal length?

I think most series have behind them a big governing idea, and once you’ve got that, then you work out the arcs next. The important thing is to have the big idea for the series, which we have for the first series [of Pulse] and we have an idea for the second.

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So, when people ask me for detail within that, often I can say “I don’t know.” But that’s half the fun when you’re given the chance to make a show, where you get to mould the detail within the overall series.

Whose idea was it to preview Pulse on the BBC website?

That was a conversation we had with the BBC. The thing with BBC3 is, they’re really forward thinking, and they can see the advantages of it. A pilot is a showcase. It’s not really about how many people sit down at 9 o’clock on Thursday 3 of June to see the show, it’s about how many people cumulatively see it, both on the website, on the original transmission and on the repeat transmissions that follow over the fortnight. Then there’s that rather vague term, ‘word of mouth’, which builds up around it, and receives a more concrete representation now, thanks to the Internet.

So, why did you decide to create a pilot rather than go for a full series?

I think what you have to accept is that it is a way of getting slightly riskier, bolder ideas to the screen. You have to look at it from the perspective that a pilot is a chance to get a series.

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The riskier the idea, the more everyone wants to test that idea out. In America, of course, the problem has been the huge, huge amount of resources that have been wasted on pilots. Because there have been so many, and they spend a lot of money on them as well.

I mean, we made [Pulse] relatively cheaply.

America’s running away from genre shows at the moment, isn’t it?

It is a bit. It’s a little disappointing. I know a friend of mine is directing something for AMC at the moment, which is an eight part series, and there was no pilot, and that’ll probably be it, just those eight episodes.

I mean, if you have a season of pilots in America, which are predominantly relationship dramas, and half of them are hopeless, everybody goes running back to genre shows the following year, and vice versa. So, I think you can have this real oscillation between the two.

Does it change the way you personally work? Do you focus more on getting a pilot show out as opposed to going for a full series straight away?

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I think you always have to develop things as though it’s going straight to series, because the real danger is having a pilot and not having an idea of how it would work as a series. I’m not talking about the detail, where, say, in episode two this character is going to have a relationship with that character, but you need to be able to say, “This is how the pilot works,” and know how the nuts and bolts all fit together.

I think it goes back to the fact that pilots for drama are quite rare in the UK. We’re used to seeing comedy pilots left, right and centre. Do you feel it’s just the BBC that’s pushing for this kind of drama?

One of the problems is that comedy is relatively cheap, while one-off drama can be very expensive. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a big distributor, and we also funded some of the deficit ourselves, so there was a will for everyone to collaborate.

Do you have an eye on an international audience for Pulse as well?

Yes, potentially. I’m sure [America] would want to make their own version, but that’s what we do. We made Ultraviolet about twelve years ago, and there’s been at least one or maybe two pilots made of that, but it never clicked somehow. In fact, the first pilot starred Idris Elba, and that’s how he starred in The Wire, because his work was seen by HBO.

Simon Heath, thank you very much!

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The Pulse pilot premieres on BBC3 at 9pm tonight. You can read our interview with screenwriter Paul Cornell here.