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Highlights from Crimefest: Creating Sherlock * 03 June 2013

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On Saturday June 1 2013, a special event was held in Bristol during CrimeFest, the International Crime Fiction Convention. Named 'Creating Sherlock', an early afternoon panel saw Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Sue Vertue discuss the inception of the series and the status of production on the third, which is currently on a brief production hiatus until later in the summer. As Steven Moffat noted, in typically amusing fashion while acknowledging the protracted development of the new series around other projects, "We've just sort of stopped for a bit while Martin [Freeman] pops back to New Zealand for a bit to film more of The Hobbit. We're actually going to resume shooting Sherlock next Christmas." While Mark Gatiss jokingly concluded, "This is an exclusive, as it's actually going to be nine films."

By the nature of the event, there was of course a fair amount of repetition in what the panel were able to speak about - in particular, the creation of the series -  which we have previously reported on in our coverage of The Sherlock Masterclass at MGEITF 2012 and The Game Is On: An Afternoon with Mark Gatiss and Friends. So instead, here we present a full selection of the best banter and observation from the creative team.

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"What connects us with Doyle is a sense of fun. Our crime is definitely on the fun side of the spectrum. It's not all grim serial killing. Well, there IS some of that." - Mark Gatiss, commenting on the BBC series' aesthetic, and in particular, its presentation of crime and criminality.

"Getting Sherlock right is a lot to do with comedy.... It's almost set up like a sitcom…
…It's kind of surprising how much of it is funny. Apart from when anyone dies. That's sad." - Steven Moffat.

"They said 'oh great' within about a sentence of us starting. We had the pitch all set out and they said yes immediately." - Steven Moffat on the initial pitch of Sherlock to the BBC.

"In terms of universal brand and the most famous character in English literature, doing that without having to spend money on period settings was a no brainer." - Mark Gatiss added.

"We wanted to stop doing all this nonsense of having to put him in period, as that takes him away from the audience. We kept saying 'this is not a remake, it's a restoration.' This is what Sherlock Holmes seemed like to a contemporary audience. He wasn't some old, crusty legend in the past, he wasn't aged fifty, he wasn't a rundown skipper. He was a dangerous young man doing really modern stuff in London." - Steven on placing Sherlock Holmes in the modern age, in the context of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing.

"[The floating text] was actually the genius of Paul McGuigan. We shot The Great Game first and there was a lot of texting [in The Great Game] and he decided to have it as floating text and I remember he said that and I thought it essentially sounded like doom and the worst idea ever, and then I happened to be going past the cutting room and I saw it and it worked as I thought it would. So when I was writing A Study in Pink I thought we could do it for [Sherlock's] thoughts as well. It's a lot down to Paul, not just the floating text, but a whole lot of other things and his obsession with wallpaper! He has a visual stylishness that seemed to come out of nowhere and was very very keen on the idea that you should see [Sherlock] as if Sherlock Holmes is behind the camera. You should see the world as he sees it. A brilliant choice of director on the part of my wife… and when I looked that way [toward Mark Gatiss and Sue Vertue) and said to my wife, I mean Sue." - Steven Moffat speaking of Paul McGuigan (director of A Study in Pink, The Great Game, A Scandal in Belgravia and The Hounds of Baskerville) and the distinctive visual look of Sherlock.

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"It was an opportunity to make a massive impact. We had absolutely no idea how much it was going to be taken into people's hearts. It's incredible and we're very thrilled by it because we had no idea. And it's absolutely true to say this, that between 8:30 and 9:30 on that Sunday night, Benedict Cumberbatch became a star, and it's the sort of thing that's only supposed to happen in stories." - Mark Gatiss on the success of Sherlock.

"Women kept writing to Doyle to ask if they could be Sherlock Holmes' housekeeper. That's an odd thing. I like James Bond but I don't write in saying can I clear up after him. Then I realised that they had designs beyond being his housekeeper." - Steven Moffat commenting on the success of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle canon.

"Some of the equivalents were very straight forward. It's still a flat share, probably imagine people would make an assumption about them living together which they wouldn't in 1895, which was fun joke to run through the series. Immediate things like the three patch problem would be fun, but then there were the big question of things like forensics, which was a bit of a stumbling block. Obvious Doyle essentially invented it and in those days Holmes was the person who did it. Now everyone does it, but it's still quite straight forward, as [Sherlock's] still the genius in the room. Obviously now Scotland Yard do all the DNA stuff, but he's the man that can put it all together." - Mark Gatiss discussing the challenges of updating Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century.

"Trying to make [Sherlock Holmes] credible is exhausting. And you do see that Doyle, having started magnificently in A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, starts to not bother," Steven Moffat noted while discussing the challenge of writing deductions. "We desperately try to come up with a cleverer one," Mark Gatiss adds, "but at the same time when you can blithely say of course he's the child's father because of his trousers, it's just going to be a joke."

When asked with Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, if J.J. Abrams [director of Star Trek and future director of Star Wars] had rung up to asked them how to do it Steven Moffat answered, "He's doing quite well."

"We can't allow the fact they [Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiiss] are both doing both shows, to make artificial differences when they aren't there as no one cares that it's us. In the truest way you could say they are almost two sides of the same coin, but I'm never exactly sure what that means. They are different people. Sherlock is aspiring to what The Doctor is running away from. The Doctor doesn't want to move away from humanity, while Sherlock Holmes wants to rise above all that. They wouldn't especially get on with on another I dare say. The Doctor would be thrilled to met Sherlock, where Sherlock would probably punch him." - Steven commenting on the suggestion that The Doctor is a very Sherlock Holmesian character.  Asked whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch would ever consider playing Doctor Who, Steven answered, "Playing two icons at the same time would be very confusing. I think you only have one of those parts in your life" with Mark adding, "But that's not to say he couldn't play James Bond!"

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"They're very well behaved, they send a lot of presents and a lot of food" Sue Vertue revealed about the fans of the series. "We test it!" Mark Gatiss confirmed. "Between the series it's crazy and filming in London now, we have crash barriers with two hundred and fifty people behind it. North Gower Street, which is our Baker Street, is like [filming] in front of a live studio audience." Mark Gatiss observed.

"I think Sue, Mark and I will continue for as long as we are allowed to. We do have, by accident, probably the two biggest film stars in the world, but Benedict commissioned the fourth series" - Steven reiterating the desire to continue producing the series. There was an acknowledgement that the future of the series depends upon the availability of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and Steven made it clear there was no way the series would continue in any form without either of the actors - recasting is out of the question. 

"Keeping bees is very sexy and extremely important for the future of our species" - Mark, joking on how far into the character's lives they would like to take the series, and whether or not bee keeping would work for TV.

 "I knew nothing about Sherlock Holmes and even now I don't, so it's quite interesting for me, when I get the script, is it has to work as a script, whether it is based on the original stories [or it's new material]" - Sue Vertue on whether it matters how closely an episode's plot sticks to the canon material.

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"[Stephen Thompson was brought in] as it was really because originally we were going to do six [sixty minutes episodes] and I was going to write two and Steven was going to too." Mark Gatiss recalled about Stephen Thompson joining the writing trio of Sherlock. "We knew him as a good writer. He's a very very clever man and very funny. He has a mathematical tattoo, that's how good he is!" Steven Moffat continued.

"Doyle said Sherlock had a certain quiet primness of dress, so we felt he needed the coat and wears rather good suits,"  Mark Gatiss commented when asked about the appearance of Sherlock Holmes. "There's a character detail in there that we've only ever really hinted at, as he checks out the mirror quite a lot. So while he says I'm above all such matters, he has the attitude that 'I have no interest in women, but by God they better have an interest in me'" - Steven Moffat suggested.

"Does that mean that Doyle didn't have anyone reading his books" Sue Vertue asked her two Holmes aficionado series writers after the subject of Doyle's inconsistency of names through the canon, with James Moriarty's brother also being named James and Watson's wife calling her husband James instead of John, which lead to the 'H' in John's name from Sherlock standing for Hamish as it was the Scottish name for James. "He had an editor," Steven Moffat answered, "And if you read Doyle's letters [to and from them], he does get notes, he does get feedback, but I think he ignores most of it. He must have said, "I've finished that one now." "The incredible genius is," Mark Gatiss added, "is that he wrote these stories sometimes in crowded rooms at parties, so the fact that only a few mistakes creep in, is practically incredible." "I can only attribute that some of his stories flopped so badly at the end, was the fact that somebody knocked on the door, with him saying, "Oh hang on, I'll just finish The Greek Interpreter." "The engineers thumb - the whole scene where obviously Holmes and Watson were meant to be trapped in a lime press [is] missing, because someone wanted a game of cricket!" Steven concluded.

"Every screen villain, ever super villain since Doyle wrote that story [The Final Problem] has been a rip off of Moriarty. They all talk like him... That brilliant exchange in The Final Problem is every single super villain/ super hero exchange in one." - Steven Moffat on the inherent challenge of bringing Moriarty to a modern audience.

"[Mrs Hudson in Sherlock] has more than anyone has ever given her before and Una [Stubbs] is a huge part of that. She's so instantly loveable and we find out a little bit more about her in the next series." - Mark Gatiss, with the big tease of the panel.

"[Sherlock is content playing along with people saying that he does, because that's easier. I think he's more interesting that that, I think he has chosen his path. He wants to be the highest intelligence on the planet so he has removes all distractions. I think his brain is so interesting that the rest of his body isn't of interest to him." Steven Moffat on whether Holmes has a condition like Aspergers Syndrome. "Sherlock is very happy in his own skin. Lots and lots of adaptations make the sort of strange, schoolboy error of finding him shooting up in the toilet, in the middle of the most exciting case of his career" Mark Gatiss added.

"In the original stories, he's a perfectly happy man. He gets to go and solve crimes with his friend Doctor Watson. He's having a great time. Both of them are having a laugh in that flat. They loved it." - Steven Moffat commented, which sounded remarkably like he and Mark Gatiss working on Sherlock and Doctor Who today.

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