It took a while for Charles Martin, a well-heeled director of sketch comedy shows, to break into the world of dramatic television, but after working on his first two kids dramas the BAFTAs started rolling in. His involvement with Giblet Boys, which aired on ITV in 2005, helped the show bring home the award for Best Children’s Drama. And most recently, his directorial stint on the second season of ITV’s My Life as a Popat, produced by Feelgood Fiction, earned him the nod for Best Breakthrough Talent in the 2007 Children’s category.
My Life as a Popat, a lighthearted show about Indian parents and their three UK-born children, gave Martin a chance to collaborate with designer Jacqueline Abrahams in creating a rich visual style that he describes as hyper-real. It also honed his skill at bringing out dynamic performances from young actors.
‘It’s very interesting because you’re teaching people who have some sort of natural ability, but who are new and learning all the time,’ says Martin. He adds that being thrust in front of a big crew of 30 or 40 people, lights and camera equipment can be intimidating enough to reduce a new actor to a ‘deer in the headlights’ stance.
Certainly, struggling to get an actor to deliver basic lines makes it nearly impossible to coax an engaging performance from him or her. So, in an effort to ease the process for the 12-year-old novice actress who played cousin Milli in Popat, Martin set aside time before rehearsals to have her practice reciting lines on set with himself and a first assistant, as a camera lens sat only a couple of inches away from her face. ‘I worked with her on the show for a couple of months and at the end of that she was quite a little actress.’
One of the biggest challenges of kids’ live action, Martin says, is how underfinanced it is compared to adult projects. On the flip side, last summer he directed four eps of the heavily funded Dr. Who kids spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures by BBC Wales. Basking in the bankability of the Dr. Who franchise, production included expensive set pieces, bigger-name actors and more filming time, which ironically created a whole new set of problems – dealing with labor laws surrounding children’s work hours.
Navigating the challenges is part of the job though, and Martin says he can see himself doing more children’s programs in the future – the pinnacle of which would be directing a major motion picture for kids.
At press time, Martin was in talks with BBC on a new project while directing the final episode of UK teen show Skins on location in New York City. ‘I’ve been to a few acting classes and I love it. I’m working now with slightly older teenagers; I find interacting with them is really creative and fulfilling,’ he says.