Meta4orce Exclusive Part Two: Rick Palmer and Alex Norris interviews

Meta4orce

The second part of my three-part series of interviews looking at the creation of new BBC animated drama Meta4orce continues as Executive Producer Rick Palmer and Director, Producer and Editor Alex Norris take time out to discuss the programme and their hopes its future.

Jonathan Melville: Can you tell me a bit about your background?

Rick Palmer (Executive Producer): My background is in online. In the late 90’s I set up and ran the largest independent film site in the UK, Reelscreen.com, which I sold to Future Publishing PLC in late 1999. Subsequent to that I founded BLOC Media as a digital agency working for clients in the entertainment industry and more recently the company has started to develop cross-platform formats such as Meta4orce.

How did the idea for Meta4orce come about?

Rick Palmer: The BBC approached us with the idea to create a new Teen Detective Drama for BBC Switch, but the actual format, story and world were left to us to develop.

We really wanted to bring some comic book sensibility to the story and John, our Creative Director and Assistant Producer on the show, was pretty adamant the story be set in the future so that we could have some fun with technology and the world around them.

We then approached one of our all time favourite comic book writers about the series and were over the moon when he agreed to get involved.

How similar is it producing an interactive series to a traditional TV series?

Rick Palmer: I’ve no experience producing traditional TV so wouldn’t presume to answer this, however from many years of experience developing highly successful online formats for companies including CBBC and PlayStation, I would suggest that the addition of a fully interactive version of the show adds significantly to the overall work involved.

What has it been like working on the series? Is there a buzz surrounding it?

Rick Palmer: Meta4orce has been a fantastic series to work on and a significant commission for BLOC Media. Getting the chance to work with such a highly respected comic book writer, as well as an amazing animation and interactive team has made the series a joy to work on.

And the feedback from TV and web viewers and the client has made the project really worthwhile.

Is interactivity a “must-have” these days?

Rick Palmer: Whilst there is clearly still a lot of demand for standard TV formats, interactivity is certainly the new buzzword in the industry right now. And as a digital business, this is good news for us!

Do you have overall control of the online games as well as the series itself?

Rick Palmer: Absolutely. This is one of the reasons why BLOC Media was approached from the outset. We’ve been working with the games industry for the best part of a decade and in that time have made some really popular online games.

Did you always know what your timeslot was going to be?

Rick Palmer: Roughly, although our actual timeslot changes each week, we always knew we were making a series for Saturday afternoon on BBC Two.

The BBC Switch audience is a younger one – did you have to tone down any ideas for the timeslot?

Rick Palmer: There was clearly some self-censorship required when defining the overall world and the storyline detail, plus the final mini-series also needed to be cleared by the BBC to make sure it was on the money for the target audience… but for the most part this didn’t have an effect on the output.

How successful does a series like this have to be for the BBC to recommission it?

Rick Palmer: You’ll have to ask the Beeb!

Is Meta4orce being looked upon as a prototype for future BBC series?

Rick Palmer: Certainly 360 programming is a mantra at the BBC right now, so from a multi-platform perspective I would say absolutely… whether they want to make any more graphic novel inspired interactive cartoon series for teens is another question…

How important is the BBC iplayer is in the future success of series such as Meta4orce?

Rick Palmer: iPlayer is an invaluable part of the mix for BBC programs and it has been a real thrill to see Meta4orce in the line-up, jostling for attention with the big boys. However, as we are essentially an interactive series, the best place to view Meta4orce online is at the official website where the full interactive experience can be enjoyed.

Do you see the series spinning off into other media – audio or books perhaps?

Rick Palmer: Absolutely. I’d love to see Meta4orce the comic series. And as for Meta4orce The Movie… Well, put it this way, we’ve already registered the domain…

What can you tell us about your plans and hopes for the future of Meta4orce?

Rick Palmer: Meta4orce has the potential to become incredibly successful. As a company we will be pushing hard for a series commission and are already in talks with companies worldwide about the format.

Next up is the Director, Producer and Editor of Meta4orce, Alex Norris.

Jonathan Melville: Can you tell me a bit about your background?

Alex Norris (Director/Producer/Editor): My background is in directing promos and TV commercials. Through my promo work I started directing animation a couple of years ago.

The exciting thing about animation is that you can do anything – if the script says “flying saucers blow up London” then that’s what’s going to happen. It’s quite a buzz to get a script that says “the hovercraft skims across the waters of drowned London” and know that you can actually do it.

Unless you’re shooting a Bond movie you just don’t get to do these kind of things in British film / tv.

How early did you get involved with Meta4orce?

Alex Norris: Bloc had been developing the project for a few months before I joined. They’d already decided on a graphic style for the characters and Peter (Milligan) had written the first outline of the story.

From the outset my main mission was to work with Peter to try and help expand the story – flesh out the characters’ backgrounds and make this much more than just a straightforward murder case.

Had you worked in animation before?

Alex Norris: Yes, in promos etc, but not on this scale. Our biggest challenge was coming up with an animation style that was achievable on our budget but still had real style. I think what we’ve hit on is something very unique and distinctive – a graphic novel come to life basically.

Which comes first – the animation or the voice recording of the actors?

Alex Norris: The voiceover (VO) recordings come first – the animators then work to that performance in terms of lip synch, character movements and so on. After the first stage of animation is complete we then get the actors back in to re-do the final voiceovers.

How did you go about casting for the characters?

Alex Norris: We did a casting session for a couple of the roles but for most of the parts we knew who we wanted to work with – and were very happy that they agreed to come along for the ride.

Do the actors rehearse together?

Alex Norris: No, sadly. There isn’t the time or the money to get them all in a room together for long enough.

The BBC Switch audience is a younger one – did you have to tone down any ideas for the timeslot?

Alex Norris: The programme’s got some pretty wild stuff in it for a Saturday lunchtime slot – so yes, we had to be a bit careful. Although the show is really for teenagers who would take all that stuff in their stride, it has to be suitable for younger kids that could be watching at the same time. An obvious example would be Soma’s vampirism – we weren’t allowed to show her actually biting anyone.

Is Meta4orce being looked upon as a prototype for future BBC series?

Alex Norris: You’re going to be seeing a lot more shows that try and make use of more than one platform, for sure. The challenge is going to be finding ways to keep the drama gripping while introducing all the other elements – games, interactivity etc. At the end of the day the only thing that will never change is that the audience wants to be told a good story – and all the extras need to back that up.

What can you tell us about your plans and hopes for the future of Meta4orce?

Alex Norris: We’ve created a very dense world here – the setting of a flooded London divided into ultra rich and ultra poor, this sinister MAKO organisation, the heroes struggling with their powers and identities – all the ingredients are there for something with a big future.

What’s really exciting about it is that it’s uniquely British – apart from the good Doctor we don’t really do enough sci-fi in the UK – and it gets a bit dull when it’s all American all the time. We’ve been talking with Peter Milligan [series writer] about some possible future storylines and things get pretty crazy pretty quickly.

This is just the beginning!! Hopefully…

Rick Palmer and Alex Norris, thanks for your time!

Part One of my interview is with series writer Peter Milligan

Part Three is with the Animation and Interactive team behind Meta4orce

For more information on Meta4orce and to watch – and live! – the series, visit the official BBC website. Watch the Meta4orce trailer on YouTube:

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