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SHERLOCKED: Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss Panel Transcript * 04 June 2015

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The following is a complete transcript of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' first panel appearance at Sherlocked at the Excel Centre on Saturday April 25 2015, just after 10:30 in the morning. The pair formed the first panel at the event, entering the replica stage set of 221B in typically jovial spirits - with Mark Gatiss immediately claiming the sofa…

Mark: I'm going to lay down on the sofa as I'm very tired.

Steven: Everything you need to know about our working relationship - he lies down.

Moderator: There's only two programmes on British TV that I can think of that could fill a hall like this. And you run both of them.

Mark: What about Balamory?

Moderator: Oh yeah I forgot about that. Are they still making that?

Moderator: So, how easy was it, once the pair of you had that romantic train journey and y'know, through it Sherlock was born, how easy was it for the BBC to pick this up, and did you know they were going to do that?

Steven: It happened fairly quickly. We went in to pitch the idea, and we didn't get further than 'modern day Sherlock Holmes' and they more or less said 'yes'. So our immaculate and phenomenal pitch didn't go to waste as we did it anyway. And there was a moment after the pilot where there was doubt wasn't there?

Mark: Yeah. The straightforward bit was the idea, because obviously as the most recognisable brand in the world, without being expensive as it's not period it's a sort of no-brainer. But there was a little moment after the pilot when we had a few discussions about various things. They were worried that Sherlock wasn't very nice, but we were able to say there is precedence, that these stories are quite successful.

Moderator: Did you have to go away and remake the first episode?

Steven: It's a complete re-do, yeah. The reason for that was we made that as a pilot but it was a broadcastable pilot, which is quite common these days and slightly unfortunate as it's better to treat a pilot as an experiment, but then Ben Stephenson (now former BBC Drama commissioner) decided he would like it as three 90s (minute episodes), a formula that had worked for Wallander, and oddly enough Mark and I were at Matt Smith's very first readthrough for Doctor Who - for the first six scripts, just to ease Matt into it - when we got a phone call from Sue (Vertue) saying "Ben Stephenson will say yes now if we agree to do it as three 90s. Do you want to go and discuss that?"

Mark: And we said 'Yeah no, it's fine, do it, yeah.

Steven: And Sue's saying "don't? no? Sure? Just say yes. We'll work it out later."   

Moderator: Were you originally going to have cliffhangers like Doctor Who? Was that going to be the formula?

Steven: With the sixty minute version? It would probably have been six 60s, which is what we were thinking it would be, and I now think that moving it to ninety... well, it would always have worked, but moving it to ninety just changed it completely.

Mark: It has a scale to it immediately. I remember watching Wallander and thinking and thinking you've got a scale, a size to it, to those stories, a chunkiness to those stories that over six hours we would have been telling very different Sherlock Holmes stories I think really, so once we'd made the decision to go to 90s we sort of rethought the whole thing. We immediately thought about bringing Moriarty in earlier, bringing Mycroft in, all kinds of things. It's our own thing about not differing pleasure really, just kind of getting on with it.

Moderator: So these train trips that you were having, and fantasizing about 'what if we could?', had you cast Sherlock by then, or did Benedict audition?

Mark: He did. We had a shortlist of about two hundred and fifty people, and then Benedict was just the one man. I did a film with him called Starter for Ten - this is the moment.

(A pause, then cheers from the audience)

Mark: In America, people leave those spaces. (adopts American accent) "I did a little movie called Starter for Ten."

(Laughter, audience cheers again)

Mark: Thank you. And I knew him a little bit, and Steven and Sue had just watched The Imitati... no, urm!

Steven: Atonement!

Mark: Atonement! Thank you! Atonement. Sorry, it's very early! (adopts American accent) "I did a little movie called Atonement!"

(Cheers again)

Steven: In which he played a rapist!

Mark: And it was just one of those moments of confluence wasn't it? He just seemed like the absolutely logical candidate. So he came in to read, and it was just perfect. And then it took a little longer to get Martin, in the sense that we saw about six Doctor Watsons, including Matt Smith, who then became The Doctor at the end of the week practically, and the chemistry was just immediate and obvious between them, and Steven leant over to me and said 'there's the show'.

Moderator: It's got a very distinctive feel to it in terms of direction, graphics coming out. Was this all scripted by you guys?

Steven: It is now. But the way it began was the very first episode of the actual series we shot was The Great Game - Mark's finale - and in The Great Game, there's a hell of a lot of texting if you remember, a lot of texting, and Paul McGuigan, very clever man, hates cutting away to a phone. He says it's just a dead shot, and you always have to have the phone up on camera for ages for the slowest reader in the audience ever - everyone's fidgeting.

Mark: It's also usually held at a very strange angle so everyone can see the thing.

Steven: Yeah, and sometimes quite recognisably by not the actor's hand, it's usually somebody else doing that. So it's terrible. So he came up with the idea. I remember him saying "I'm going to put the text on the screen" and I said with my usual prescience "that sounds shit!" Then I walked past the cutting room where he was already experimenting with this, and I thought it looked amazing. I loved it. As I said I always would! But I was still writing the first one, A Study in Pink, so I started writing it in, not just for texting but for loads of things, like he's got an internal heads up display. So by the time Paul got to that script, he's thinking we'd gone over the top. But that's where it came from.

Moderator: It's one of the things that stick out from other TV shows where these things happen.

Mark: I do find when I see a cutaway of a phone now it feels very old fashioned. A lot of people do it. In House of Cards, David Fincher does it explicitly because of Sherlock. I think it looks a bit odd, I think everybody should just do it now, it just saves so much time.

Steven: Russell (T. Davis) was telling me, I went to the Cucumber launch, and he was saying "I'm sorry I'm sorry, we've done the text on screen, I'm sorry I'm sorry!" I said you really are allowed to, I think it's the convention now. You're welcome, I'll have £10.


Steven: He gave me the £10, it was great. £10 from David Fincher? Phone him.

Mark: $10. It's not the same. Also we must say, a huge contribution to the show was by our editor Charlie Phillips, who sadly passed away very recently. He was a wonderful man and an incredible innovator really, so much of that stuff. Charlie was one of those people you would say "Do you think we could...?" and he'd say "Yeah, I've done that." And he'd have it in a little file, he'd just instinctively know how to cover things, he was a wonderful guy.

Steven: I first met Charlie when I was doing a show called Jekyll which nobody ever watched.


Steven: Oh stop it! You liars! He came in as we got into a terrible confusion about how to cut some sequence together, and I remember (director) Matt Lipsey saying "I know exactly who can sort this for us" and that's when I first met Charlie. Charlie arrived with his toolkit and a whole lot of computers I'd never seen before and got us out of trouble, and I just thought he was a genius, like a sort of film boffin. So when Sue had the brilliant idea of putting Paul McGuigan with Charlie, and the two of them sort of went mad with each other didn't they? It was a match made in heaven 'cos Paul shoots in an incredibly tricksy way and Charlie edits in an incredibly tricksy way, and so they were competing with each other about how bonkers the scene could be. How many wipes, how many strange ways of cutting from scene to scene there could be. So an awful lot of what made Sherlock work, and still makes it work as people pick up these ideas is - and this is a thing that Paul said - it's got to seem as if Sherlock is behind the camera too. And Sherlock is a man who sees complexity and darkness everywhere he looks. You look at something and you see nothing at all, he looks at it and he sees information and horror in every frame, and that's what you get from the combination of Paul and Charlie.

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Moderator: Now, what essential elements did you both agree had to be in Sherlock season one, and did you have any disagreements?

Mark: Well as you know the whole project was born of our childhood passion for Sherlock Holmes so there are certain immutable things aren't they? And because we loved the Basil Rathebone films which had obviously brought them up to the then present day, if you look at those films there were a lot of clever people there who were already doing that sort of thing. They do the bullet holes in the wall which is originally Victoria Regina and it's the V of a man's lapels, they've thought those things through, so we had a starting point in a way from other peoples innovations in the '40s. We knew that obviously he needed to be, that they both needed to be much younger than they usually are, we were going to start from the beginning which in itself was very exciting because it's so rarely done, the first meeting essentially. I remember we had a sort of little pitch document in which we described him as a sort of skinny, pale young man who is on the internet all night poring over criminal records and police morgue photographs and stuff like that. It's a lot like a lot of people these days.

(Audience laugher)

Mark: But also he's a consulting detective, and there were certain things that seemed an easy fit and other things we had to scratch our heads a bit more, the biggest of which was that in essentially inventing forensic detection was he still relevant in the 21st Century, and what we decided was although Scotland Yard now does a lot of the things that Sherlock Holmes did for the first time as a Victorian, he is still a super brain who can make all the connections that nobody else can. Once we had decided he still is relevant because he can judge from the stain on your tie that you killed someone this morning.

Steven: I remember also one thing we were kind of keen on was that Sherlock Holmes should be happy in his own skin. He should be actually someone who quite enjoys his life, because the fashion, very productively and very brilliantly had come to sort of portray Sherlock Holmes as a bit of a manic depressive, and happy and -

Mark: Tortured.

Steven: Tortured really. This results in some astonishingly brilliant work. Robert Stephens and Jeremy Brett give us that kind of Sherlock Holmes and it is poetic and brilliant. It isn't actually in the original, he's not really like that, but it's a brilliant interpretation. But it was time to throw the lever the other way and say 'actually everyone else might think Sherlock Holmes is a weird, strange terrifying man, but he's actually quite happy.' And Sherlock and John dashing around solving crimes together, they're having the time of their lives. They love it! And there was a little element - we didn't think of this until we had finished the first series, and we looked at these two blokes in their scuzzy flat and we thought 'this is kind of Men Behaving Badly Solving Crimes.'

(Audience laughter)

Mark: That was the working title.

(Steven laughs)  

Moderator: His first scene he's got a riding crop and he's bashing a corpse...

Steven: Again in the original.

Mark: It's from the original. We had one of our very exciting train journeys, we were sort of poring over the things which are in the original stories and which are never done. Some of the things have become so familiar over the years, and yeah, that's a description that Stamford gives to Watson before he introduces him to Sherlock Holmes saying 'y'know, this chap who is looking for a flat, I found him beating corpses in a dissecting room to assess the extent of bruising after death.' I remember when I read that I was about ten I went "WHAT..?"

(Laughter from audience and Steven)

Mark: And it's never done. Thrilling things like that really.

Steven: We frequently get complimented for innovation that we simply took from the original. I remember one of the first reviews said 'as a sop to the modern day, they refer to him as a consulting detective'. That's EXACTLY how he got described himself in the original story.

Mark: The war in Afghanistan which was the beginning of it all, was actually that terrible coincidence that sort of led to the whole thing.

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Moderator: Now supporting characters like Mrs Hudson and Lestraide...

Mark: Lestrade. (Audience laughter)

Moderator: Lestrade.  See I'm just testing him.

Mark: Schoolboy error.

Steven: We go with the Rathbone pronunciation.

Moderator: Ah, I go with the Douglas Wilmer pronunciation. You have Douglas Wilmer of course.

Mark: Yes yes, we had Douglas Wilmer in The Diogenes Club, yes.

Moderator: And of course the BBC via the BFI [have just released the Wilmer series on DVD]. Anyway, back to Greg and Mrs Hudson - you've made... Lestraide...

Mark: Lestr-ARDE.

Moderator: Lestrade... very blokeish and very likable, and again was that a deliberate thing , you had to make him different from the other interpretations?   

Steven: Well it's actually a difficult one because actually in Doyle the portrayal of Lestrade varies a bit doesn't it? But we took our cue from a terrific story called The Six Napoleons, where Lestrade says to Holmes at the solution of the mystery "you think we're jealous of you at Scotland Yard, but you're wrong, we admire you. If you came round to Scotland Yard there isn't a man there who wouldn't shake your hand and tell you how great you are." So we took our cue from that, that this is the man who understands how good Holmes is, is clever enough to recognise that Sherlock Holmes is cleverer. A really good copper, who really admires Sherlock, and Sherlock is too much of a dickhead to notice.

(Audience laughter)

Steven: That's the sort of relationship. One of the statements of that in the first episodes is when John asks Lestrade 'why do you put up with him?' and he says 'because I think he's a great man and if we're very lucky one day he might be a good one'. He gets how amazing Sherlock can be and Sherlock doesn't even notice that this man admires him. That's the weirdness and the joy in that relationship.

Mark: It's also that thing we wanted to have a sort of convivial environment. It's a big mistake to think that everyone has to be rowing all the time. They wouldn't stay together as a unit if they didn't actually like each other. Obviously, especially John and Sherlock have big moments and flare ups and proper rows because Sherlock is unbearable, but we wanted people around them to actually want to be with them. And also we said with casting Rupert it was like if Sherlock wasn't around it would sort of be his show. He's the best detective Scotland Yard's got - that's what Sherlock says about him in the original stories, so to get away from this sort of more ratty faced and gnarky Lestrade it was about trying to do something different with it. And as with Mrs Hudson who has become a big character by dint of all the dramatisations, in the stories is a ghost, there's hardly any detail, so over the years we've developed quite an elaborate back story for Una.

Moderator: Yeah, she's running a drug cartel and pole dancing.

Mark: That was her husband. Well, not the pole dancing.

Steven: She was typing.

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Moderator: How did you decide the three stories you did choose for season one, because one would have thought Baskerville would have been on there instantly?

Mark: Well, they weren't tentative, but the obvious thing was to start with the first one because Study in Scarlet is rarely done, and the beats follow the story very closely, it's an expanded version. And then we sort of wanted to do a kind of code one, so we asked Steve Thompson to do The Blind Banker which is a bit like The Dancing Men but only in the sense of a sort of code. And then we knew we were bringing in Moriarty, so my favourite story is The Bruce Partington Plans which is one of the stories in The Great Game but again it's to do with the 90 minute format, we had to explode them and do lots of original stuff around them. It was really when we go to the second series we thought 'let's just do the three most famous ones.'

Moderator: Now every hero needs a villain, and Holmes has got a great main villain in Moriarty. Casting, you went for somebody relatively the same age. Now I remember seeing you in an interview saying the Sidney Paget [illustration of] Moriarty looked like an old bank manager.

Steven: He does, but that's not a criticism actually, it sounds like one. One of the problems with Moriarty, in terms of the original, is that Doyle wrote the master villain so well absolutely everybody copied Moriarty. You read that scene in The Final Problem when Holmes and Moriarty meet and it is every Bond film right there. Because that character was so relentlessly imitated, largely by Ian Fleming, it would be a cliche to do it again. We had to go a different way. Oh, we didn't have to, we decided to. We thought we could be surprising. In Victorian times the idea of organised crime was new. That was a terrifying new thing - 'what if crime were organised?' - so a crime boss like Moriarty was a new terror of the age. We thought 'can we make a Moriarty who is more like a suicide bomber?' because that's the terror of our age, a man so deranged, and so bored and so evil that he'd even kill himself to win. We thought that's the terror of our age.

Mark: The key thing really was casting Andrew, because that was all formulated but he was just incredible and everything about it came together in that performance really. The sort of charm and then the absolute derangement.

Moderator: Can geniuses be insane though? Because that final meeting between them on the roof, can villains as clever as that be insane?

Steven: Well, can there be amateur private detectives who are consulted by the police? You know, we are in Sherlock Holmes land, we've never really claimed it is an exact and accurate portrayal of contemporary Britain (laughs).

Moderator: It also snows on Christmas Day on Baker Street so it's proof that we're not there. Now, Molly's boyfriend. That poor man.

Steven: Are you referring to Jim Moriarty?

Moderator: Er, yes. Oh no, the one from season three.

Mark: Oh, Tom!

Steven: Because I do think the big question really that hangs over Sherlock is - did Molly...

Moderator: Yeah, that's what I was trying to say. I knew you'd bring that up...

Steven: I mean, did she?

Moderator: Do you think they did?

Steven: Well I don't know, I just think it's a really, really dreadful thing to think about this lovely woman who is a bit in love with Sherlock Holmes accidentally shagging Moriarty.

(Huge laughter from the audience)

Steven: How do you cope with that when you go home at night?

(Applause and cheers)

Steven: I mean, if she ever - which she won't let's be honest - got it away with Sherlock, how's she going to bring that up? "You know your archenemy? Well..." (laughs) "You're better." We're not going to do that episode, relax.  

Moderator: Now, the relationship between Sherlock and Mycroft blossomed from season one all the way through to season three, and watching them all over the course of three days, I think Mycroft is a smashing big brother.

Mark: Thank you very much.

(Applause and cheers)

Moderator: He really does genuinely care for Sherlock.

Mark: Well yes of course, that's the thing I was saying before. We took our cue from the Billy Wilder / I.A.L. Diamond film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, in which Sherlock and Mycroft's relationship is much spikier, but even there, even in that chilliness, there is a great sense of care. There's a beautiful bit at the end where Christopher Lee writes to Robert Stephens, and you know it's very reserved but it's clearly coming from the right place. Essentially the idea is that Mycroft is this sort of ice man and he has sort of taught his big brother how to remove emotional connections and he has succeeded, Sherlock has not succeeded, and I think Mycroft constantly wants him to be more like him, to come inside the tent and be one of us, you know. Which he is never going to be. But it comes from a place of love, of course it does, yeah.

Moderator: Of course it's when he's pouring tea and says "I'll be mother" and Sherlock says "Well there lies the root of the problem."

Mark: Yeah.

Moderator: Now, we've got ten more minutes. If anyone wants to ask a question this is you moment.

Audience Question 1: Hello Mark.

Mark: Hello.

Audience Question 1: Hi. Hello Steven.

Steven: Huh?

Mark: Hi Steven.

Steven: Hello!

Audience Question 1: Question for you both. In Reichenbach, when Sherlock was on the roof, underneath is the word 'Pathological'. Was that by design or accident?

Mark: No it's just on the building! I remember thinking at the time - it's the old pathology department of Bart's Hospital - I remember thinking 'well that's rather good', but no. We get a lot of questions like this about what's written on the road and things. We had about three hours to shoot that, there's no way we could stop the whole of London and repaint it, so it's just a coincidence I'm afraid. But it's quite a good one!

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Audience Question 2: Hi, I'm from Russia, I would like first to thank you for the show, and I would like to ask you about Mary Morstan because I would like to know how you would describe her relationship with Sherlock, because they seem very brother and sister like?

Steven: I think the idea.... again, we're always guided by Doyle. Don't know better than Doyle. In the original, Sherlock Holmes and Mary Morstan get on perfectly well. Where she has turned up rather infrequently in the movie versions, they've always had a spiky relationship, but why would they? There's no reason for them to. So we really liked the idea that Sherlock immediately takes to Mary, and Mary immediately takes to him in a way that's slightly irritating for John. We had loads of stuff that we never even used, we had ideas that she'd go around for violin lessons and John wouldn't know about it, and things like that. So they're just great friends.

Mark: I think it's interesting that it's because in fact he does care about her, and likes her, it slightly clouds his judgement and he doesn't really get what she's up to, which sort of proves my point, hahahaha.

(Audience laughter)

Steven: It's an interesting thing, that's what Mark said when I was starting to write A Scandal in Belgravia, Mark said "what if Sherlock is simply right, what if he is simply correct in what he says - emotion, affection, love, desire, clouds his judgement and he must stay away from them." And that was the key to all of that, key to both Irene and Mary, is the moment Sherlock's affections are engaged he becomes utterly useless. He doesn't notice the obvious about Mary, he spends most of Scandal wandering around like a mortal doofus. And suddenly I'll write a Sherlock Holmes story where Sherlock does something useful, I'm going to do it next time I promise! But it's just interesting. He's right. Affection is something he can't let into his brain.

Audience Question 3: Hi! If you could have any actor feature in later episodes of Sherlock who would you have?

Mark: Angela Lansbury.

(Laughter, applause and huge cheers)

Mark: Who is my new friend, my new friend Angela. I gave the Olivier award to Angela last week and it was AMAZING. She's amazing. That's my answer today.

Steven: I can't top that answer, I think that's a brilliant answer.

Audience Question 4: Hello! Greetings from Italy! I have a question for you both. First I would like to tell you I think Sherlock is a beautiful treatment to the city of London and it made me fall in love with the city. Secondly I very appreciated the frequency of references to the novels, also in little details like The Bruce Partington Plans, and I wanted to ask you, what is the process of inserting these references into the main plot?

Steven: Well there's no process, we're just fanboys getting away with it really, over two shows, let's be honest. No, we just like it. I mean there's one we love slipping in the references that Sherlock Holmes fans will get. Sue will pull us back if we're doing too much. The other thing is as Mark said earlier, there's so much beautiful stuff in Doyle that nobody ever touches, that we get a particular pleasure from finding a nugget of the original that people don't know about.

Mark: We don't really insert things in that way because it tends to be more organic, but there are occasions where there's some situation where you go... I mean, I've mined A Case of Identity I think three times because it's a beautiful little story, a quite fragile little story, it's got these little nuggets of things, like the woman oscillating on the street about whether to ring, so gorgeous isn't it? We just needed a little glimpse of a previous case and it was so perfect. Sometimes like that.

Audience Question 5: First of all I want to thank you for hiring Benedict Cumberbatch because he's just an amazing revolution.

(Cheers and applause)

Mark: He pays us now.

Audience Question 5: Good thinking. And also because this is a dream come true, because I always wanted to ask you...

Mark: Strange dream...

Audience Question 5: I know. I have a lot of them. After watching the unaired pilot, I wanted to know what sort of thought processes went into the differences between that and the one that aired, because they're very subtle but they're also very obvious. I would have watched the unaired pilot as a series but compared to what aired it was like a rough draft, and I just wanted to know how you went about making those changes.

Steven: Is this the point at which you normally wake up?

Audience Question 5: Yes, because I don't have an answer!

Mark: This is where the giant green monster comes out. Well there were lots of things because you don't normally get a chance to do it, you suddenly think, 'right, there are some things I didn't like.' I didn't like how Mrs Hudson owning the shop next door worked out, uh, I pulled Benedict's trousers up which drove me crazy because they were sort of concertinaring at the bottom, he didn't look smart enough I thought. But often the more fundamental things, once we knew we were going to a 90, it was about whether we bring up certain things like Moriarty which would have happened late into episode six if we'd done that series, and bringing Mycroft in there and stuff like that. There were lots of little things weren't there? And really, fundamentally I think, bringing Paul and Charlie together made the whole thing look so cinematic and exceptional really, that was the major difference.

Steven: In fairness to that pilot which tends to get a rough ride, when people watch that without seeing the series they thought it was GREAT. It was only when you saw we made that pilot the very first time we made Sherlock and didn't really know what we were doing, which is always the case at the beginning, then, when we made it again with Paula and Charlie now onboard that was the fourth time round, as Study in Pink was made at the end of the first series. So the amount we'd learned was huge. I mean, the differences are mostly getting better at it. The truth about pilots is they should never be broadcast, you should always be allowed a big old go at it, and then be allowed to do it again. Nobody ever likes to shoot their first episode first because you haven't learned to do it yet.

Moderator: I'm afraid time has run out. So please raise the roof for Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss!   

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