James Burstall on how Leopardrama turned a factual show into a five-part drama.

Missing was a bold and exciting commission by BBC controller of daytime Liam Keelan, and a unique opportunity for Leopardrama.

Liam asked if we could use Leopard's successful interactive factual show Missing Live as the inspiration for a five-part drama series, stripped across a week. Strong story-telling is at the heart of Leopard's programming, so we were very happy to take this on. The result realises the success of Missing Live and, we hope, engages the audience in the subject in a new way.

We took the idea of a Missing Persons Unit, collated mountains of research built up from the factual series and workshopped the concept with the BBC executive producer Gerard Melling. Writers Roy Boulter (The Street), Matt Leys (The Street and The Bill) and Karen MacLachlan (New Tricks) provided their own take on procedural and relationship dramas. Anne-Marie di Mambro (Casualty and Taggart) joined us for the final episode. We had seven months to deliver a five-part series from scratch within the discipline of a daytime budget. Producer Julie Press created tight storylines with myriad twists and turns within the parameters of a main precinct, limited locations per show, four central cast members and five visiting cast.

Dover was the perfect location; its distinctive urban and coastal landscape was a powerful backdrop for the show and its transient feel reflected our theme of missing people.

Basing the entire shoot in Dover would have been costly and editorially ineffective, so line producer Sara Banister found an empty council office (oh the glamour) in Maidstone, which served as a unit base and studio set. It made sense to plan a series of days in Dover during the shoot, including the aerial shots near the cliffs. We were due to film an emotionally charged set piece for episode one on the cliffs with our lead actors Pauline Quirke and Lucy Benjamin and, not surprisingly, the weather was atrocious. With a tight shooting schedule, remounting a scene was impossible. Just when we were ready to bow to the power of nature, the heavens cleared and director Laurence Wilson and DoP Andy Parkinson took advantage.

Shaping the schedule was one of the toughest decisions - we had to shoot 5 x 45-minute episodes on digi beta in just over five weeks. The steady hand-held look gave the show energy and edge while retaining a classic feel that would work for the BBC1 audience.

The quality of the scripts attracted terrific on and off screen talent. Mark Wingett (The Bill), Felix Scott (Trial and Retribution) and Pooja Shah (Bend it like Beckham and EastEnders) co-starred.

In financially constrained times, we tapped into a pool of resourceful creativity that inspired terrific work.

Producer Leopardrama for BBC Daytime
TX BBC1, Monday 16-Friday 20 March at 2.15pm
Executive producers for Leopardrama James Burstall, Joey Attawia and Susie Field
Line producer Sara Banister
DoP Andy Parkinson
Producer Julie Press
Summary Procedural drama series set in Dover in which DS MJ Croft and her team solve missing person cases

James Burstall: My tricks of the trade

  • Crackberry - an essential tool of the trade with several Leopard Films productions filming at any one point

  • Sense of humour - for when all others are losing theirs

  • Hiking boots - especially relevant when filming in sleet on the cliffs of Dover

  • Hip flask - see above

  • Digital camera to capture the fun of filming on location - the pictures that don't make the papers