Tween coming-of-age adventure series Free Rein – winner of two Emmys – was in the spotlight as a prime example of how to make drama for global audiences at an RTS North West event in mid-June, hosted by TV presenter Helen Skelton.
Made for Netflix by Liverpool-based Lime Pictures – and created by two alumni of stable-mate Hollyoaks Anna McCleery and Vicki Lutas – Free Rein airs in 192 countries. Series two was set to launch in early July, and the indie is already gearing up to shoot series three.
Joint MD of Lime Kate Little described how the process began when “off the back of hugely successful shows House of Anubis [Nickelodeon] and The Evermoor Chronicles [Disney]”, the indie approached Netflix with the idea for Free Rein. Having grown up with Black Beauty, Claire Poyser, Lime’s other joint MD, said they felt they had the “next iteration: modern, funny, witty, original”.
Girls-and-ponies plus idyllic English countryside and beaches – the show is filmed in Cheshire and Anglesey – argued producer Angelo Abela, is “how the world sees Britain, part of the ‘sell’ of the show”.
Freddy Carter, who plays stable boy Pin, added that the show has a “fiercely loyal audience in all these countries” because it is about “universal themes: friendship; staying true to yourself; right and wrong”.
Poyser claimed a Netflix commission offers a number of benefits to producers. “[With] a terrestrial broadcaster,” she said, “there’d be a number of people involved and the likelihood of everyone feeling the same way about a project is tough to achieve.
“The beauty of partnering with a platform with the scale of Netflix, [which is] prepared to back you creatively and commercially, meant we could deliver what we wanted to in terms of our ambition.”
According to Abela, Netflix was as ambitious as Lime. “They told us, ‘Make the show you want to make.’” When the production team was struggling to get one episode down to 22 minutes 30”, Netflix’s response, said Poyser, was simply, “How long does it need to be?”
Abela added: “Netflix is rigorous in wanting the best cast.” According to Little, this vigour extends to dubbing for non-English versions, for which Netflix holds a “proper casting process to get the right voices and authentic dialects for very specific territories, so it doesn’t work against what we have created”.
Asked if making the show outside London was problematic, Poyser claimed: “The craft base in the North West is the best in the business bar none. That’s a huge magnet for companies like Netflix and Disney, which don’t care where a programme is made as long as it’s good.”