Welcome to Inside Red, a series of exclusive interviews with actors, writers, directors and the other talented people who create the Red shows you love. Today we’re talking to Lewis Arnold, director of the second series of Prey on ITV. Written by Chris Lunt, the series revisits tenacious copper DS Susan Reinhardt (Rosie Cavaliero) as she tracks down prison officer David Murdoch (Philip Glenister), who has found himself on the wrong side of the law while trying to save his daughter.
RED: What’s your history in making TV? How did you get to where you are in the industry today?
LEWIS: I sound like a bit of a Dawson’s Creek teen cliche but I’ve wanted to be a director since I was a teenager, when I stole the idea off my friend who wanted to directed since he was a kid. Back then we used to make skateboard films and skits, having been inspired by the TV Series Jackass. It was during this time that I fell in love with the filmmaking process, so I found a fantastic course at the University of Gloucestershire where I could explore narrative based story-telling through the actual act of making films.
After leaving Gloucestershire I did a whole host of running jobs, but I was also fortunate enough to make more shorts through the UKFC and Screen WM before finding myself working as a 1st assistant director in commercial and music videos in London. However, it was really my training at the National Film and Television School that helped me break into the industry and get my first break on Misfits. I studied an MA in Directing Fiction in 2011-13 and came out with two short films, Echo and Charlie Says, which got me representation at United Agents.
It was then the belief and support of my agent that led me to get my meeting with Clerkenwell for Misfits, of which I was a huge fan. The rest, as they say, is history.
RED: You’ve directed the whole second series of Prey, but you didn’t work on the first series. Did that affect your approach to directing this follow-up?
LEWIS: The great thing about what writer Chris Lunt has set up with the show is that each miniseries is a standalone story, with only the Reinhardt thread following through. So whilst we wanted it to feel like Prey, we were also given a certain amount of freedom to respond to this new story and the characters within the piece.
However, series one was such a huge success and I enjoyed it so much as an audience member that when pitching to direct series two, I wanted to respect the look and stylistic approach that had been set up by director Nick Murphy and producer Tom Sherry. So we really embraced the handheld, almost documentary approach, as well as the idea that we wouldn’t be lighting conventionally (like series one), but then we (DoP Sean Van Hales and Production Designer Andrea Hughes) also tried to bring our own film references and ideas to series two and this new story.
RED: How do you set about deciding the look and feel of a show or episode when you take on a project?
LEWIS: It all stems from the script and the story and as a director you’re constantly responding to the writing. I suppose I like to talk a lot about the characters with the creative team, building up reference images, films and photographs from these discussions that are easily shared and built upon.
Obviously the feel can also be dictated by the genre of the piece too, so I will often overload on referencing films of a similar tone to get a wider feel for whats been before, so we can hopefully keep it fresh or subvert it if the story allows.
RED: What difference does it make to your job when you direct every episode of a series, as opposed to a select one or two?
LEWIS: I suppose there are lots of key differences, mainly to do with creative control. As the director of a new miniseries or even the lead director on a longer show, you make a lot of the key creative differences alongside the producers. These range from casting actors, crew and locations as well as building the look of the show alongside the DoP and designer. I suppose this is more in line with how a director works within film. However, when you come in to direct two episodes of an established series, you inherit all of the above creative elements and have to find a way to bring your own creative ideas into the piece whilst being respectful of the show’s overall aesthetic.
RED: You also directed episodes of Banana, which shared characters and moments big and small with Cucumber. What was it like to work on a series telling parallel stories in this way?
LEWIS: Banana was such a fun show to be involved in. There aren’t many shows that exist where each episode is essentially a self-contained short film. This approach to the writing allowed a lot of creative freedom for myself and the other directors on the show, as you didn’t have to worry about the continuity of the story or the characters in the same way as if it were a continuing narrative.
There were a few crossover moments early on with Cucumber and we had to be aware of these, but Russell told me going in that we had to ignore what Cucumber were doing and make Banana its own thing, as even when storylines and scenes cross over, we’re seeing it from different characters’ perspective. So it’s no longer through the 40-year-old eyes of Henry but through the youthful inexperience of Dean.
Russell is such a wonderful show runner, as well as an incredible writer, that his openness and clear vision for both shows made it all very straightforward and easy. We also had wonderful producers in Emily Feller and Matt Strevens who were constantly communicating with each other about everything, so in retrospect we essentially became one team, joined by Russell and the producers.
RED: What TV are you watching and enjoying at the moment?
LEWIS: There is so much good drama out there right now it’s so hard to keep up, which is fantastic. I loved Mackenzie Crook’s Detectorists, which just finished airing, as well as Capital by Euros Lynn. I’m currently watching Jessica Jones on Netflix, which is great as I’m a huge comic book nerd. I also always re-watch the Red Riding trilogy as it’s one of my favourite pieces of television.