Interview with Harriet Sams – Writer & Director of The First Musketeer

the-first-musketeer-official-poster-1The First Musketeer is a prequel to the books by Alexander Dumas set around 1619, six years before D’Artagnan arrives in Paris. This is the first meeting of Arthos, Porthos and Aramis.

This original drama was written, directed and produced by Harriet Sams. Harriet studied at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She has worked on a number of TV series, including Call the Midwife, as a Production Assistant.

The First Musketeer is he first major project. A six-part series with a total running time of one hour eight minutes. The series opens on YouTube on 1st June 2015.

So this fresh new look at the old heroes comes from a fresh young cast and crew.

Semple: What drew you to writing a prequel story to The Three Musketeers?

Harriet: I’ve always loved period movies, along with action/adventure it’s my favourite genre, and The Three Musketeers have it all. Although I would say that the subject matter almost chose me. I was in France with family and my dad commented on the fact that half of the villages look like ready made sets, and that I could make a great Musketeer short film using the locations, and so it kind of evolved from there. It was never really planned to become as big as it did but I tend to have difficulty holding back when a good idea presents itself.

Semple
: It is rather obvious you must have been working on this before you heard about the BBC series starting. Others might not realise this, does that worry you at all?

Harriet: This is probably the only annoying thing about the BBC bringing out a Musketeer series. I actually finished the final draft of my script only about a month before they announced that they were about to begin developing their own show. And because it was just the initial announcement I had no idea what direction they were going in and until it was revealed that they had a D’Artagnan in their version I genuinely thought they might have tapped into the same prequel idea as me, and that I’d just have to give up and think of something else. Other than that, having another Musketeer series has been great. It helps a lot that so many more people are now interested in the musketeers because of their production.

Semple
: I’d expect the interest in the BBC series to actually help you, would you agree?

Harriet: I think so. I’m pretty sure we would never have found as many Twitter and Tumblr followers without the BBC Musketeers’ fandom forming online. But it’s also good that we haven’t gone in the same direction as far as plot goes, because we don’t want to look like a rip off.

Semple
: Obviously the Musketeers are outside of copyright and that makes them free for anyone to re-imagine and rework. Are you attempting to stay as true to the source material as possible without restricting your own creativity?

Harriet: I’ve remained very close to the original work. Our Milady de Winter is only ever referred to as Anne, as she’s not yet known to Athos as Milady, it’s set around the same year as Dumas suggests the Three Musketeers first meet, Aramis’ backstory is set up to follow identically to that described in the books, I even looked to the little play about Athos and Milady’s marriage for inspiration. I really mined the books for any backstory I could possibly find and stuck to it. However, because there is so little information for the time before D’Artagnan I was able to add a huge amount of my own imaginings too. I also did what Dumas did which was to look up real historical events that were taking place at the time and used them for plot. Having to fetch the banished Bishop of Lucon (our young Cardinal Richelieu) back to court to appease the Queen Mother was taken straight out of the history books.

Semple
: Did you start this project rolling or was someone else involved first?

Harriet: No it was just me. Written, developed, Produced, Directed. Although my Dad was the one who suggested how easy it would be to make a short about The Three Musketeers if I used the French medieval towns as my backdrop.

Semple: How did you go about casting the parts?

Harriet: I put up notices on some of the main casting sites and just met person upon person until I found the right match for each role. A couple of the cast members were brought on after having worked with me previously, but the majority all auditioned.

Semple: When creating new characters for this project what were your main reasons for each one you required?

Harriet: Some of them were real historical figures, to link into the events of the time, some to act as catalysts for the three young Musketeers to meet, and a couple were purely for fun, like the villains for example.

Semple
: You’ve filmed most of this series on location in France, why was this so important to you?

Harriet: It was important because France looks like France. There’s no way I could have found the kinds of locations in the UK that we had out there, and I knew the area very well. As similar as our two countries are there is just a different style and even colour to the British castles, and added to the fact we have less of them, and they tend to be a bit too tourist heavy to allow film makers in for free.

Semple
: Could you have done this cheaper in the emerging Eastern European market where similar locations might have been possible?

Harriet: Definitely not for our show, because two of the main choices for using Eastern European countries were irrelevant to us, which are cheap labour (everyone on our series volunteered anyway), and tax breaks (our budget was too low to qualify).

Semple
: This is billed as Season One, how many Seasons would you think were possible before meeting with where Dumas started his tales?

Harriet: I’ve got plots for 4, but Season 1 is set 5 to 6 years before D’Artagnan arrives in Paris, as suggested by Dumas, so I would say a good 5 Seasons covering 5 years would take us up to his books very nicely.

Semple
: Are there any other books that you’d like to tackle in the same way as this?

Harriet: A good number, but considering they’re all out of copyright I have to keep them under my hat..

Semple
: Is there a question I haven’t asked, that you never get asked, that you really think ought to be asked?

Harriet:
Q – Why aren’t more historical epics made?
A – I think the answer is probably quite straight forward, it comes down to money. Period movies cost more than modern day ones. But considering I managed to foray into history with as low a budget as I did, I definitely think more people should take risks with the genre.

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