The Queerness talks to Ella Watts, the director and producer of the hit BBC Sounds audio drama: Doctor Who Redacted.
I made a decision not to care if everyone hated it: as long as it mattered to one young queer person, as long as it made one trans kid feel seen, it was worth it. I think we did that. I can’t ask for anything more.Ella Watts
We are very pleased to introduce Ella Watts, (centre in the main image above) , at 28, this amazing queer woman has captured the imagination of a very large and very hungry audience. We asked her to take some time out to answer some questions, and here is what she said.
Annie: So how did you get into producing and directing, especially audio ?
Ella: I started listening to audio drama in 2012. Like a lot of people, Welcome to Night Vale, Cabin Pressure and The Thrilling Adventure Hour were my gateway dramas, as well as the Neil Gaiman adaptations for the BBC by Dirk Maggs. I’d been doing drama since I was a small child- (I started competing in Eisteddfods and doing Speech and Drama when I was 8!) – but it wasn’t until I moved to London in 2017 to do a Masters degree in radio at Goldsmiths that I got my first experience on an audio drama. I was a runner on season 3 of Wooden Overcoats, a beloved independent British audio sitcom; and that led into me being dialogue editor and later Executive Producer for the science-fiction drama The Orphans, and producer for the anthology horror comedy The Unseen Hour. My idea was to get as much experience of audio drama from as many different perspectives as possible, so that I’d be better at producing and directing it.
Annie: What is the job like on a day to day basis ?
Ella: Day to day, producing is mostly emails and development work! It’s a lot of admin, a lot of negotiating with commissioners, production companies and agents, a lot of pie in the sky thinking. Directing is of course much more hands on, but also generally much rarer! My favourite moments in my work are when I get to direct, though. It feels electric.
Annie: Redacted has taken on a life of its own, how did you become involved ?
Ella: I created Doctor Who: Redacted! back in 2019. The Doctor Who brand wanted a podcast serving young women under 35 and working class communities. I pitched an audio drama as ‘Buzzfeed Unsolved, but Doctor Who’. Six months later they took me seriously enough for me to start reaching out to writers, and I invited Juno Dawson to be our head writer. She came up with the characters and the core plot, then we had a writer’s room with Catherine Brinkworth and Sasha Sienna, where we worked out the series outline, before recording the pilot. I’ve been here from the very beginning!
Annie: The audio drama was touted as a ‘very gay, very trans’ audio drama in the queer press; how important do you feel that this kind of representation is to the community, especially at the moment ?
Ella: So I tweeted the show was ‘very gay, very trans’ – forgetting for a moment that people outside my immediate circle of queer friends and colleagues would see it. Then it got quoted in headlines. I think this kind of representation is incredibly important, especially for trans people in the UK right now. With the British government’s increasingly aggressive attempts to erase trans safety in the UK, we need characters and narratives in fiction that encourage British people to empathise with the trans community, to stand with them and to stand up for them. Trans people – especially vulnerable people and young people – need to know that they are heroic, and loved. That they can be happy. That they are not alone. It was very important to me that trans people in particular found this drama, and I’m so glad so many did.
Annie: Who was the biggest comedian on the cast behind the scenes, and what if any were the funniest bits when recording ?
Ella: This is such a difficult question! We worked with a lot of incredible comedians – but probably the biggest for her legacy is Doon Mackichan. She’s a really incredible, groundbreaking feminist comedian who carved the way for female comedians in the UK. One of my favourite moments was when Vastra jumps out of a 10th storey window and Doon improvised her shouting ‘tally-ho’! She did the classic slowly diminishing, Looney Tunes volume thing, it was great. I also loved a bit of ad-libbing Alasdair Beckett-King did for us, as the Floater in episode 10, where he’s telling Cleo and Jordan where to put him on the shelf so he has a good view of the window. Sadly it didn’t make the cut!
Annie: We hear a lot from other actors about how great it is working with Jodie Whittaker, what did you find and how did she gel with the rest of the cast members and the story ?
Ella: Working with Jodie was absolutely incredible! She’s an electric performer – it felt like I barely needed to direct her, just give her one nudge in the right direction and we’d immediately have exactly what we needed. There were so many moments during recording where she’d give a take and the hairs on the backs of my arms would be standing on end at just how well she’d delivered the lines. It was almost surreal. I think one of the things I found most impressive was how incredibly grounded and kind she was – she’s a very level headed, ridiculously compassionate person, with a really great sense of humour. It’s always wonderful when someone you’ve really looked up to turns out to be an excellent human being in real life, too.
We had to record Jodie separately to the rest of the cast – but she loved the scripts, and really loved Charlie’s performance, it made her laugh a lot. When they met for photos, Jodie and Charlie got along like a house on fire, really making each other laugh. That was lovely to see.
Working with Jodie was absolutely incredible! She’s an electric performer – it felt like I barely needed to direct her, just give her one nudge in the right direction and we’d immediately have exactly what we needed.Ella Watts
Annie: If you could give queer readers any advice on getting into acting or producing or directing, what would it be ?
Ella: My advice would be two things. First, consume the thing you want to make. If you want to be in theatre, go to plays. If you want to make audio drama, listen to audio drama. There is so much incredible media out there, and you can learn so much just from engaging with it. The vast majority of what I know about audio drama I learned from listening to audio drama.
My second piece of advice is to find your community. In media especially, networking is so important. It can be really alienating, if you identify as marginalised in any aspect of your identity, to find networks and groups that work for you. But there are so many access groups working and fighting so hard to help marginalised people get paid work in media, including so many queer groups.
Following queer media professionals, look for queer media groups, join them on Facebook, follow the hashtags, find the Discord servers, find your people, support them, ask questions, and you’ll find they’ll return that in kind.
Annie: There was lots of speculation on the twittersphere. What did you find most difficult about keeping it a secret ?
Ella: Honestly it was just watching everyone speculating and trying not to give anything away! Every week people would speculate, and that was exactly what we wanted them to be doing, but it was so hard for me as a Whovian to resist the urge to say to people ‘yes, you’re on the right track!’ or ‘no, we’re not doing that!’
Annie: Your series starter came off the back of the Legend of the Sea Devils episode of Doctor Who in April ,where our hearts were ripped out and we needed a huge gap to be filled; how does it feel now it’s out and completed for people to binge at their leisure, how proud are you of it ?
Ella: I’m incredibly proud of Redacted. I’m 28 years old, and this podcast has been an enormous part of my life across the 3 years it took from concept to release. But as a queer woman, and a queer Whovian, I’m even more proud of the absolutely stunning response we’ve had on social media to the series. It’s been so good to see so many people saying they feel seen, and so many people expressing their support of the LGBTQ+ community because of Redacted. Just before we released the show, I made a decision not to care if everyone hated it: as long as it mattered to one young queer person, as long as it made one trans kid feel seen, it was worth it. I think we did that. I can’t ask for anything more.
Ella tells us that there are currently no plans for a second series, but that: “Juno and I would absolutely love to make more, we know it really depends on listener figures”. So get listening.
Follow Ella on Twitter at @GeJWatts
Listen to Doctor Who Redacted on the free app BBC Sounds