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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 March 2008, 17:37 GMT
The idea - collaboration like no other

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Makers of 10 Days to War explain the Iraq drama series' aims and the challenges of its production.

Harshad Mistry, creator of 10 days to War in this Q&A explains the genesis of the idea, of how it 'bugged' him to be made and discovering the results of a collaboration like no other.

Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from wanting to tell the story of how we went to war to as wide an audience as possible.

10 Days to War
At first no-one was interested in the idea of the dramas

We have had countless TV and radio documentaries and the people who watch them are the same people but how do you say to everyone "this is important please take notice".

For me the answer was drama and finding a writer who could use the factual material to create gripping stories that could only be told through drama.

In my initial research I had discovered so many things had happened in the ten days prior to the start of war and so came the title 10 Days to War.

I wanted to do it in ten episodes over ten days and I thought no one will watch one hour every day - but they would watch 10 minutes and I can put them online.

So you can see the theme running through this was "10"!

What did you think made it stand out?

Simplicity - like all good ideas. You either get it or you don't.

For me an idea has to have real ambition.

The three things here were:

  • First and foremost this is an important story to tell.
  • Secondly to do them as mini dramas stripped over ten consecutive days is novel.
  • Finally the idea of setting in the exact dates - so Monday March 10th 2008 you will see a drama based on the events Monday March 10th 2003 and so on, seemed to create the excitement of an event.
  • How did you pitch it?

    I pitched it everywhere in radio and TV for over a year. For the BBC this was something that fell between too many departments.

    But by September 2007 the clock was ticking and I had come to a dead end. Luckily at this last possible moment I found a champion in Peter Barron, editor of Newsnight who wanted it and more importantly was willing to back it.

    And so with his support I was able to get to see Jana Bennett, the Director of BBC Vision and pitch to her. A year's work was going to come down to this.

    What was the reaction?

    I only needed 15 minutes. She got it straight away and a decision was made there and then to commission. Unbelievable!

    I was now in the territory of TV drama and I needed help quickly. Can we make them and put them on the exact dates of the anniversary?

    Fortunately I found another champion in my executive producer, Colin Barr, who said I had created a new sub-genre of story telling and had found the idea "strangely seductive".

    His dedication from then on has been absolutely total and the calibre of people he persuaded to come and work on this has been just remarkable.

    How did the idea evolve?

    The idea has evolved far far better than I could have imagined. It's been amazing to witness in less than five months a collaboration like no other.

    As soon as it was commissioned everyone from writer, directors, cast and crew who has been approached sees the impossibility of what we wanted to deliver but they too have been seduced by the idea and then brought their own ideas.

    They have taken it to another level and the ambition has continued to grow.

    The dramas are now individual stories set within the days.

    10 Days to War
    Once the idea was accepted - the detailed planning had to begin

    So many people have worked on this; inspired by the idea, inspired by the writing and by the attention to detail through the journalism.

    It is terrific example of the rewards of collaboration. You learn to recognise that a good idea has to be put out to others and you have to let go for it to flourish and to let it take a form of its own which you alone could not possibly have achieved.

    Any major challenges to overcome?

    The challenges are always organisational.

    This cross-genre, cross departmental, cross divisional and multi-platform beast exposes the difficulties the BBC has in working together where an idea wrecks existing structures and reporting lines.

    "It is drama but not made by drama, it's a news story but not made by News" the question always comes up who's responsibility is this?

    But these are difficulties we have had to work through. It can make you unpopular but you can't help it if you are driven by your passion to an idea that you just want to see happen.

    The BBC has taken a huge risk in tackling this subject in such a bold and innovative way. People talk about wanting to be innovative - but all we have to do is give people space and allow them freedom to get on with it.

    It remains to be seen if we have succeeded in trying to attract audiences, young and old, to complex matters through the drama.

    This Multiplatform Thingy.

    What is timely is the availability of technologies like iPlayer - '10 Days to War' is the perfect package for the digital generation - great stories in neat digital packets, great for sparking online chat rooms and user generated content and who knows may inspire lots to make their own short stories on what they consider to be important.

    The idea wasn't conceived as being for the net but more from the point of can you tell a story in ten minutes - if I can persuade people to give me just ten minutes of their time then perhaps they might find what we give of interest and possibly come back for more.

    10 Days to War
    The plan was to make the dramas interactive

    The ten minute short however does work well for "lunchtime video snacking." What has been a revelation is how well the dramas work back to back.

    I do urge everyone to watch it on the best screen they have available - they are after all films, crafted as films and been shot in high definition.

    Will there be another 10 Days to….?

    I don't know. I do have a couple of very important stories that could be told in this way.

    What remains however are the missing 2 days of 5 days to War and 4 days to War. Someone might come up with what those other stories could be.

    The concept is out there now. Maybe someone else will come up with a story that demands to be told in this format.

    It is after all the story that is most important and it is the story drives the idea not the other way round. It has been the story that 'bugged' me and demanded to be made and then came the idea.

    But it is strange to discover the power an idea can have and to witness the outcome of a collaboration like no other.



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