The ridiculously stellar list of names involved in Channel 4 and RTE's filming of all 19 of Samuel Beckett's plays - and the fact that the project happened at all -
The ridiculously stellar list of names involved in Channel 4 and RTE's filming of all 19 of Samuel Beckett's plays - and the fact that the project happened at all - is testimony to the peculiar intimacy of theatre people.

Michael Colgan, who runs the Gate Theatre and Blue Angel Films in Dublin, started working on the idea of putting them on TV more than two years ago, having already staged the plays in several different countries. Initially the BBC was interested but a deal fell through. 'They wanted to cherry pick. They said they couldn't do all 19 and that made me very downhearted,' Colgan says.

Former C4 chief executive Michael Grade, who is on the Gate's board, suggested Colgan pitch the idea to C4 director of programmes Tim Gardam.

He gave the project to the channel's commissioning editor of schools programming, John Richmond, who snapped it up.

Asked why he, rather than the drama department, got the project, Richmond says: 'I'm not sure but Beckett is a named author on the national curriculum.

I was jolly glad and frightened to get it ... We've got 11 to 12 hours of very high quality drama on 35mm using a range of very talented acting, designing and directing talent.'

That's not to say C4 put up all the money itself for the£4m project.

Both C4 and RTE put in£800,000, there was a contribution from the Irish Film Board and Tyrone Productions stumped up the rest in return for shares of distribution revenue.

The list of names involved is as impressive as the fact that they all agreed to work for a low, flat fee. Colgan says it was Samuel Beckett who got them involved. Initially Colgan and his colleague Alan Maloney wanted to get some top writers to direct the plays and approached people such as Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. Pinter said he wanted to act in a play instead and his involvement attracted David Mamet to the project.

The End of the Affair director Neil Jordon persuaded Hollywood actress Julianne Moore to become involved. Anthony Minghella asked if he could work on it and brought in Kristin Scott-Thomas (below), Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson. By the end, the cast and crew included Sir John Gielgud (above), Michael Gambon, Damien Hirst and Richard Eyre.

Some fell by the wayside, however. Stoppard pulled out because of other commitments, supposedly breaking Colgan's heart. Colgan also spent three or four days with Bernardo Bertolucci discussing how he could direct Come and Go before the Italian pulled out because he didn't know how he could add to it without literally filming the script.

The Beckett estate trusted the team not to change the scripts and the plays were filmed as films, rather than as theatre. While planning the filming of Krapp's Last Tape, director Atom Egoyan would tease Colgan by saying that, as a film-maker, he should cut to 'the punt', an image in Krapp's mind of himself in a punt that is never shown in the play.

As the playwright's agonisingly specific stage instructions would not allow this, 'You can't cut to the punt,' became a phrase used throughout production.

The only co-ordination of look and feel was to prevent duplication of ideas, rather than to have the productions looking uniform.

And this was all decided on before shooting. 'There was a lot of trust,' says Colgan. 'If you have directors like we had, you have to trust them.' The first of the 19 Beckett plays to be broadcast is Catastrophe.

BECKETT ON FILMBroadcaster: Channel 4Producer: Blue Angel FilmsStart: 19.55, 25 June Length: 19 films of various lengths Commissioning editors: John Richmond and Joe Mulholland (RTE)PRODUCTION CREDITS Catastrophe executive Joan Egan, producers: Joe Mulholland, Rod StonemanDirector: David MametProducers: Michael Colgan, Alan MoloneyAssociate producer: Edward BeckettDir. of photography: Seamus DeasyProduction designer: Clodagh ConroyProduction manager: Martin O'MalleyScript supervisor: Sarah HaywardCostume designer: Consolata Boyle.

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