Bringing The Drama To Life
The Serpent is a new BBC drama set in the 1970s which started on New Year’s Day and here’s an interview with its exec producer Preethi Mavahalli from Mammoth Screen…
You’ve been developing The Serpent for a number of years, can you tell us how the series came about and developed into the finished product?
(Lead director) Tom Shankland initially came to us with the story of Charles Sobhraj he knew from his travels, assuming we hadn’t heard of him. But Damien (Timmer – fellow executive producer for Mammoth Screen) had grown up in Thailand and already had a connection with Charles Sobhraj and how he had haunted Asia in the 70s. I hadn’t heard of him at all but the man was immediately fascinating and intriguing.
We all started reading up on what more we could find out and that led us to becoming very curious about Herman Knippenberg and his role in events leading to Sobhraj’s capture. We reached out to Herman and had a few lengthy conversations about his side of the story and that’s when things all came together as the untold cat-and-mouse story of how the most unexpected man helped capture the world’s most wanted man. Tom then persuaded Richard Warlow to come on board to write the series, and so the adventure began.
What were the biggest challenges of making The Serpent?
Making The Serpent was a long journey that was unlike making any drama we had made before, and that was because we were telling a story inspired by real events that involved real victims and participants, some of whom are still alive or have families that still remember events vividly.
It was always imperative to us that we portrayed people and events fairly and accurately, and that meant doing a huge amount of research and interviews that were ongoing throughout the whole development and production process and constantly fed into the creative direction of the project. For us the most important thing about making the show was to get the untold aspects of the story of how Sobhraj was caught and how he impacted the lives of so many around him to screen.
You were less than two weeks away from wrapping the shoot in Thailand back in March when filming had to stop, due to the industry-wide Covid-19 shutdown. What happened next, and how did you complete the series?
We were so close to completing our long shoot in Bangkok when global events meant we had no option but to suspend production and get everyone home safely. We had planned to film for a few days in Budapest at the end of the shoot but that plan now also looked unlikely. The following months were unlike anything we had experienced before with ever changing circumstances week by week as the world went into lockdown.
We were finally ready to remount the shoot in August, but it took place in Tring, Hertfordshire, instead of abroad. It wasn’t quite what we had imagined but our amazing crew were able to recreate a number of international locations including Kabul, Bangkok, Paris, Mumbai and Delhi, and everything went very smoothly. We were very lucky to get completed and delighted we could finish making the show.