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"I really want writers to be empowered."

At Copenhagen TV Festival we speak with writer, director and executive producer Simon Mirren about empowering writers, the challenges of producing Versailles and pitching lessons - and disasters.   

Simon, you are a Brit living in the US and you are one oft the few writers who has crossed borders and had success in multiple countries – with ‚Spooks’ in the UK, ‚Criminal Minds’ in the US, ‚Versailles’ in France and you are currently developing shows set in Berlin and London... 


What sent you on that journey and how does the role of the writer differ internationally? 


I started in the UK with the BBC on Spooks and heard that in America writers produce what they write which then wasn’t the case in the UK. I felt the digital age was coming and I needed to learn how to produce and direct what I wrote – and the place that offered the chance was Los Angeles because they had built the infrastructure very differently from Europe. So I sincerely got there by accident.


The first show that I worked on was for Jerry Bruckheimer ‚Without A Trace’ which was one oft the big procedural dramas. Then, CSI had really become a benchmark for procedural dramas. They had a particular menu or method to create that.


What’s ‚The Method’ ...?


That’s a secret ... The most important thing in a long-running show is a precinct. I realised every successful drama that I had been working on over the years had a ‚precinct’ at the heart of the show. With regards to ‚Versailles’ – that is the precinct.


I learned the hard way to produce what I wrote on ‚Without A Trace’ – it was a hard lesson but I’m glad I did it. Then I moved on to another show in New York called ‚Third Watch’ which is a more character-based show. That was when Cable Television started to take hold. By that point I had become ‚The guy that worked on procedural dramas’.


I had been on Criminal Minds for 7 years and it was a very dark show show where we were basically killing women every week and I did over 160 episodes of that. As a showrunner my job was to write, to produce, to be in the room, to be on locations. We never left LA but replicated other cities in America. It was a wonderful learning experience but I just felt I really needed to shift and break out of that model. 

How did Versailles come about?

I got sent a pitch for Versailles and I looked at the building as a precinct and thought – that’s interesting.


I looked at why Louis built that building. I looked at the character and realised he showed all signs of a psychopath. I asked the people of Versailles – did he oversea the lines of the building – which he did. And that’s a is a kind of control issue and another kind of psychopathic trait.

And then I looked at the brothers in the palace. Philippe who was this gay cross-dressing warrior who went to war in women’s clothes. And I thought what an awesome story that is. And he gets away with it because his brother is the king.


In hindsight we see what Louis and Philippe did with modern media. So I thought the story is there, there is 70 years of history. And then I looked at the complexities of making it.


First of all they wanted to make it in the English language which I immediately knew was gonna be a bad problem for me because I’m from South London.


So I knew it was going to be a big challenge and everybody thought we couldn’t do it.


But I thought it was a great opportunity for me to take what I learned and go back into Europe. I had been doing some masterclasses and spent time talking to writers in Europe and was at times quite disgusted about the way how they were treated and felt they needed to be empowered. Because as our machine changes that writers need to be able to produce what they write is going to be paramount.