Executive producer Sandra Jobling on recreating the past without cliché - or the benefits of HD.

My desire to adapt Val McDermid's book A Place of Execution for the screen began more than six years ago. Coastal Productions, the company I set up with Robson Green in the 1990s, was already working successfully with Val on Wire in the Blood, and I thought A Place of Execution would make a great thriller.

It would also be a project without Robson in it; it's important for Coastal to make programmes that don't always star Robson. ITV was very keen but it didn't happen for a variety of reasons. Finally, last October after encouragement from Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes, I got the call to say they wanted a three-parter, much to my delight.
The story moves constantly between the 1960s and the present day, as a journalist examines the case of a schoolgirl who disappeared in 1963 from a remote hamlet.

We were delighted that Patrick Harbinson, who has remained loyal to Coastal despite phenomenal success in the States, agreed to pen the adaptation.

To make the action work on screen, he turned the journalist, Catherine, into a documentary maker. That meant we had to make multiple films - one set in 1963, one today, one of Catherine's documentary and one of a “home” cine film - and blend them all together seamlessly.

Phil Leach, my long-time producer, and I realised this multi-layered drama needed quite specific skills from a director. Daniel Percival began his career in documentaries and we were very excited by his articulate approach to the script and his ability to meld the old and new. He was on our wavelength, as was Steve Lawes, the DoP.

Some of the characters feature in both parts of the story, so we debated whether to age the actors or use different people. Prosthetics can work brilliantly but they are very costly in both money and time as we'd lose three hours a day in make-up. So we decided to use two sets of actors.

We went after Juliet Stevenson quite early on to play Catherine and were thrilled when she said yes. Then we cast our 1963 actors, including Lee Ingleby as the police investigator George Bennett and Tony Maudsley as his sergeant, Tommy. Their chemistry was so strong, I felt as if they inhabited George and Tommy's shoes. Philip Jackson and Dave Hill played the older versions of these two men.

Because we shot all the period scenes first, there was only half a day's overlap between the two casts. To help our “older” George and Tommy, we showed them rushes and brought them to set to meet the 1960s actors and study their mannerisms. Philip looks very convincing when he takes his glasses off in the same way that Lee does. They are completely believable.

Coastal is based in the north-east and it was lovely for me to use locations which are familiar and nostalgic, such as Nenthead Mines.
Location manager Gareth Williams and production designer Claire Kenny did a great job of creating our fictional village of Scardale. Simonburn in Northumberland was the first place we visited and it fitted the story so well, even having the manor house we needed and a real sense of isolation.

There were also very few road markings or satellite dishes. The villagers were very welcoming and it was amazing to watch our big trucks rolling down the tiny lanes as the mist came up over the moors.
The biggest hurdle was the weather because, despite what people think about the north-east, it's not always cold. Fortunately, we were gifted with snow and rain in April, which adds tremendously to the bleak and fearful atmosphere. Then the sun shone for our modern day scenes, which makes for a fantastic contrast.

When you do a period piece it's easy to make it look clichéd. To get a classic 1960s look we referenced Road to Perdition with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman and we shot on Super 16. I know the world of HD is out there but I'm a great believer in film and I don't think we would have achieved the look we wanted on our budget using anything else. And no matter how good the raw material, a film is really made in the edit suite. We were very lucky to have a talented editor in David Thrasher.

My expectations always exceed the money I have but no one has let me down. After waiting so long for Place of Execution to come to fruition, it's everything I imagined and more.

Place of Execution is a Coastal Production in association with Ingenious Broadcasting for ITV1. The 3 x 60-minute show will air in September on ITV1.

Sandra Jobling: My tricks of the trade

  • Call sheet. It sounds obvious but it's important to know everybody's name.

  • There has to be a Starbucks nearby to buy a skinny latte from or the crew know Sandra's face is going to fall.

  • My lip pencil. Someone once said I was the best dressed exec they'd met. I think you should always put a nice face on for the world, even in the middle of the night.

  • I'm nowhere without my BlackBerry. You're not tied to your desk or missing emails and photos and luckily today you can get a signal in most places.

  • Behind every good woman there's a good man. My husband Ken works with Coastal and he takes everything in his stride.