Coronation Street and Emmerdale director Diana Patrick reveals filmmaking and acting tips
Diana Patrick is a director for super-famous, long-running TV shows such as Doctors, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Casualty and The Bill.
After first working as a theatre and television actress, Diana then took the leap into directing by applying for an NFTS course. Mandy News finds out how she then turned those initial steps into a glittering career.
So, Diana, tell us a little bit about where you’re from and when you decided that you’d like to pursue a career in directing TV?
Well, basically, I was an actor for quite some time, and then I decided that I wanted a bigger vision than just being one part of that. I think there comes a watershed time with most people, probably in their late twenties, when they assess what they’re doing with their career – and that certainly happened to me.
I decided to apply to National Film School, and by a lot of fast-talking and sheer luck they accepted me, which was amazing. Then I made a graduation film, which – thank God! – people liked. The ball got rolling from there.
What was your first film about?
My graduation film was called Away Day. And basically it was set in Kings Cross, at a time when there was a lot of prostitution going on in Argyle Square there. It was basically a short drama which hopefully kind of brought that particular issue into more dramatic context than a documentary.
And that was seen by industry people, was it?
Yes, exactly. Then I got an agent, which was great – then it was very quiet, as these things always are when you come out of drama school or film school. It’s either very busy or very quiet, and it was quiet for a couple of years – and then suddenly I got picked up by The Bill, which was fantastic, and it kind of went on from there, really. So [I was] very, very lucky.
So tell us a little bit about your process. When you’re going into an existing project like The Bill or any other long running series, how do you get your teeth into that? How did that really work on each of the series you’ve worked on?
Yes, I mean I was very happy on The Bill because I worked for a fantastic producer. For directors, the producers are so key, because of how much freedom and vision they allow the director. I was very lucky at The Bill because they allowed me that, so it was like nobody had to mentor me. They just wanted me to do what I felt the story was, which was extraordinary.
I’m not sure that would happen now. That was an amazing thing to be allowed to do, to make a couple of dramas as they were then. Essentially, you get your script, and you talk it through with your script editor and your producer. Your job is to reflect your Producer’s vision as well as your own. You also ask your producer how they see it as well.
So it’s very collaborative. Incredibly collaborative. Then your drafts come out and you cast from that draft and that’s probably the most crucial moment, when you cast, because, as you know, it just stands or falls by who is playing what.
Tell us what a typical day or week or even year look like for you?
I mean, it’s feast or famine. The same for directors as it is for artists, really. You’re either working your socks off, literally, 24/7, or else you’re hustling and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll do some teaching, which is always great because you learn so much from teaching. You’re working with young artists and they’re bringing so much to the table.
So effectively my year could be working on, the four shows I’ve been working on are The Dumping Ground, Emmerdale, Corrie and Father Brown.
Sometimes it can be a quiet year – just as it can for actors. It really does depend. What’s great is if you do a good job on something, they ask you back. That’s rather wonderful, because it’s not just that you come back to do something that you love, but if you’re working with a call of regular artists, there’s a trust that’s already set up. That is so important. There’s shorthand, and because of that shorthand, they trust you, you trust them, you know how each of you works.
If artists don’t know you, they’ve got to make sure that you can do what you should be doing, if that makes sense. They need support, and they need to know you can support them.
Tell us a little bit about that process, the scripting, the shooting and editing? What are the week-to-week process of that? How far ahead are you looking?
Well, it depends what show you’re on. Right now I’m working on continuing series. You’ve got to make decisions very quickly, so when you get your script, you have to realise it and get to that kind of realisation point in your head pretty damn fast. You really have to react to that first read quickly in order to get it changed, or to collaborate with your script editor and producer.
Once you’ve done that, you start to break it down. You start to break down the locations, go round and look at the locations, see if they fit, see if they don’t, and obviously, you’re casting and you’re dealing with any problems with costume or makeup or stunts. That’s always a big one, do you need doubles? All of that stuff kind of comes into play once you’ve decided with, obviously, the producer and script editor, that that is the story everyone wants to tell.
So it happens very, very quickly, actually. I mean, Corrie’s a terrifying turnaround, but that’s okay. Adrenaline is very creative.
When you’ve got so many different characters, so many different storylines, some of which have existed for decades, there must be lots of heads clubbing together. How does that overall direction work? Is it truly just a collaborative thing?
It certainly is. It always should be, actually, because then you’ll play to everybody’s strengths, not just your own, and that’s really important. In terms of beginning a plot how I’m going to shoot it, it’s driven by story and character, literally that. I know that sounds obvious, but it really, really is. Who are we with in this scene? What is this scene trying to say? How does it fit into the story? What’s the dynamic? Where does that particular character come from? Where are they going to? What’s their arc?
101 things all come into play when you’re camera scripting and working out how you’re going to shoot it. Your camera people will often suggest something much better than what you’ve got because that’s their expertise. Hopefully I can bring characters to stories, but what everyone else brings is their amazing skills, which makes the piece richer. And that’s what’s so exciting. That’s why we’re so lucky to do what we do. It grows and grows and grows.
You’ve worked on Emmerdale and Coronation Street on and off for quite a long time. What differences have you noticed in the process of making a show, whether it’s technologically speaking or creatively or just the pace of it? Has much changed?
There are, actually. I suppose the two big things that’ve changed is that the schedule for every single person, including writers, has got faster, and everybody’s just on, working at a million miles an hour. I think that because the big broadcasters are in competition with HBO and all of those, they have to tighten their belts – which then hits us.
So, they’re saying, “make that show, as well as you did do, but make it on half the budget.” I’ve really, really noticed that. There’s not one moment where it isn’t a white knuckle ride. Before, it used to be a little bit less stressful. Now, you are just super aware that you must fulfill that schedule. You’ve got to. You cannot fall off it.
The second thing I’ve noticed very much is, for actors, there are many more than there ever were, and it’s really really hard. It’s hard to able to consolidate their career when they’re trying to work their way up, because there are so many people to see.
What are Coronation Street and Emmerdale shot and edited on?
HD, which is great. Really good. And obviously, I mean, it’s quite alarming for makeup but it is really good. It’s extraordinary what you can do with it as well. Avid for the edit.
What are your thoughts on the diversity issue? There appear be two camps among female directors. Some are of the opinion to not think about their gender and just get on with it – and if it does get raised then they’ll just stamp it out with the individual. And some want it to be openly discussed a lot more. What are your views on this? Was it a problem when you were entering the industry?
Well I come from the theatre, and in theatre it’s much more about whether you’re good. Nobody even questions your gender. It just isn’t an issue. And it’s interesting that when you get in what I call the industry section [of] TV and film, suddenly it does become an issue because almost 90% of the crew, with the exception of costume and makeup and script advisors, are men.
It’s really how that affects you as a woman, when you’re standing, they would say how you’re going- for example, when you rehearse a scene with the artists, which is the first thing you do, you then describe how you’re going to shoot that to the crew. Now they are 90% men, I mean 90% of the operators are men – and how outrageous is that? And you are super aware,
I think most women would be, at that point, that actually you are female, that you’re not one of them. My feeling is that if you’ve got a vision, you’ve got a vision and you’ve got to get it across and get over or ignore any hurdles.
It can be very lonely, you know? The guys go off for lunch or whatever and it can be lonely, but then I guess for any director it can be lonely. It’s really wonderful to see so many female directors coming through at last, because their vision is different. It is different, it’s emotionally different, but, you know, it really, really is and you do see that, very clearly, which is exciting. That’s wonderful.
How have you been able to navigate challenges when they come up?
It’s interesting, because I just think experience really helps here. When I think of how I first got into art and how green I was and of what I didn’t know, I can’t help feeling that a little bit of arrogance helps. It blinds you to what you don’t know, if that makes sense. Now, I do have the experience.
What I think we tend to do on series as directors, because most of us are pretty experienced, we’re able to read quite fast how the day is going. How do we work with that? How do we schedule it? How do we reschedule it? What do we do?
Then there’s thunderstorm, so you have to deal with that. Do we have him wear a coat? No, no, don’t. Now the car’s broken down because it’s an old car, it’s a vintage car, what do we do? We change the scene. Days like that that happen so often. To be honest with you, filming is so much about sorting very practical problems on an hourly basis. It really, really is. If it all goes according to our planned shotlist, it would be very surprising. It truly would.
So, there’s always a challenge, there’s always something coming out of left field and what experience gives you is a way to make that situation creative rather than floor you. When you don’t have that experience, you’re kind of overwhelmed by it. But when you’ve got experience, you can just see. You don’t panic anymore, because you know that, basically, it can be sorted and all of us together can sort it.
There’s always a challenge. Always. Every day, actually.
What advice would you give to an aspiring director wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Basically, you’ve got to have confidence. If that means acting confident, then that’s fine. You get onto the set, with a lot of well known actors from a series, and you’re new to it, and perhaps you’re not feeling it or you didn’t sleep the night before and it’s a bit terrifying. It’s just remembering your talents, remembering that you have every right to be there and that all those actors will be on your side, really.
And advice for actors?
It’s got to be compulsive. The thing about being an actor is that you can’t accept any other way of being. Unless you have that, you shouldn’t do it, because sadly there’s far too many people around. It’s got to be a compulsion. It absolutely has to be and it’s so important to remember that when you’re not working, you’ve got to keep your chops up. You’ve got to go for play readings at your mate’s houses.
Whatever you do, keep your game up. It just matters. I don’t know anybody now who doesn’t have to temp, it’s just what people have to do to survive. But in that mix, they absolutely have got to keep their belief in themselves, their future and talent. And the only way you can keep the belief in your talent is by actually doing it – and if that’s a play reading after your temp job with a bunch of your guys at someone’s flat, then brilliant, do it. It’s so important to retain your identity as an actor, and that’s so hard to do.Tags: