Jack Williams and his sibling Harry are behind Two Brothers Pictures, which has become a leading drama and comedy shingle since it launched in 2014. The company was bought by All3Media in 2017. Its credits include BBC and Starz series “The Missing,” ITV and Sundance’s “Liar,” and BBC and Amazon comedy “Fleabag.”
Next up is Amazon and ITV drama “The Widow,” which marks Kate Beckinsale’s return to TV in an international tale about a women trying to unravel what really happened to her husband, reported dead in a plane crash in the Congo three years earlier.
Variety recently spoke to Jack Williams.
Why launch Two Brothers Pictures back in 2014?
Our initial hope was to do a better job of producing our own work, making sure we could follow it through and that things we write were produced in the way we wanted. We also felt we had more to offer other writers as well.
Is it by design that there is an international dimension to a lot of your shows?
It’s ever since “The Missing” crossed the desk of Chris Albrecht at Starz. That was a big co-production for them to do at the time, and I think that definitely made the U.S. take notice. Thus far we have always set up shows with a U.K. broadcaster first. There are some we have on the slate now that are more international, and we will start with an American broadcaster.
What was it about “The Missing” that resonated so strongly with viewers?
The subject matter is incredibly emotive and universal; the fear of losing your child is so strong. People have approached it in fiction before but not in quite such a direct and painful way as the one we chose: the fear of losing your kid and never finding them. It also came at a time when Scandi noir was taking off, along with the idea of watching shows that were heavily serialized.
A few years later and commissioners bemoan the lack of non-serialized, story-of-the-week type shows.
We are really interested in exploring what that looks like. Going back to shows where everything is fully resolved in an hour is something a lot of people say they want, but it still feels quite old-fashioned, but I think there probably is a way of doing it.
Why do “Baptiste” and not a third season of “The Missing”?
We did talk about “The Missing 3” for quite a long time, but every time we did it we’d get stuck… and it starts becoming a formula. The one thing we want to do as writers and producers is challenge ourselves and do something different.
We thought, how do we take a loved character [Julien Baptiste from “The Missing”] and tone of that show and do something really different with [it] and see if that works.
There are elements of “The Missing” in the setup: You are going looking for someone. We’d talked about setting a show in the Congo. I’d read about it and got into the history of the place. We were talking about what it’s like to survive loss. It took about a year and a lot of these different ideas to coalesce into [“The Widow”].
Has the way you write and work with your brother changed?
When we sit down to write, we just talk about an idea until it is good, but finding time to do that is challenging when you have a production meetings, and other writers, and budget meetings. For a while we tried to everything at once, but now we set aside three days a week to just write, not really pick up the phone, and just do what we used to do.
How do you work with other writers at Two Brothers?
We had quite long careers before we started it. We know the pain of being given a note that says “[do] better” and you go, “That’s not a note – what do you mean?” We’ve had too many of those annoying things in our lives.
It’s really exciting when you work with someone like Gaby Hull who wrote “Cheat.” He’d written comedy before and this is his first drama, and Mark [Denton] and Jonny [Stockwood] who wrote “Stranger” [aka “White Dragon”], or even Phoebe [Waller Bridge] when she wrote “Fleabag” and had no experience.
It’s very rewarding and it’s a nice break. I love a script meeting, but I love a script meeting when it finishes and I don’t have to do the rewriting.
How has the TV drama market change since you launched?
In the last five years it has ballooned. It means you have more chance of finding the broadcaster or streamer that likes a show you want to make – it also means in the world of co-production that there is a slightly more delicate balance in terms of what [different] people want.
Is the growth sustainable?
The big change we have seen is with movies contracting and the disappearance of that $30-40 million movie with a more indie sensibility. The movie companies now nearly all make TV.
There’s more people than ever before, and it’s more and more competitive. People can’t keep making this much; you can’t keep up with what’s on. It is going to contract, and there are going to be a lot of people looking around and not enough life rafts.