#PrixItalia2016 Winners: Cyberbully

The TV Drama jury unanimously awarded “Cyberbully”, produced by Raw TV for Channel 4, with the first prize.

“Cyberbully” is a real-time thriller, where a British teenager (Maisie Williams) gets her computer hacked and is forced by the hacker to do his bidding.

According to the jury, “the TV-Movie succeeds in representing an actual global social issue in a visual innovative and formal original way. Brilliantly directed and precisely acted by its standing alone actress, Cyberbully speaks to the heart of the younger audience and has an educative value also for a larger audience”.

We spoke about the idea behind the programme and of the challenges of filming it with Richard Bond, executive producer from Raw TV, and director Ben Chanan.

How did you choose this topic?

Ben Chanan: Channel 4 approached us to make a story that reflected current fears and concerns. At the time, there were many stories in newspapers and on TV about cyberbullying and cyber suicides. I felt it was an opportunity to do something about it. One of the stories was about a webcam being hacked. I thought, “if you can do that, then you can hold someone hostage”. It would make a good basis for some kind of real-time thriller, shot in a single location.

Richard Bond: What we wanted was to talk to the audiences who are most affected, young people, those who are growing up in a sort of digital Wild West. We wanted to engage them in a debate, without being preachy.

As we were doing research, we stumbled upon a story of a girl who had been hacked and spied on. That was our starting point; we discussed it with director Ben Chanan and we agreed that it was a fantastic dramatic idea, which would allow us to develop a story that could encompass also other themes we were interested in, such as culpability, anonymity etc.

Moreover, there was the idea that something frightening can happen in the safest place, while your children are at home.

How did you move from there?

Richard Bond: We decided to set the whole movie in one room and to shoot it in real time. It was a challenge, but those constraints also forced us to be more creative.
Once we got the script, finding the right person was very important. We had to find an actress who was brilliant enough to pull it off. For me, the obvious choice was Maisie Williams. We were incredibly lucky, because the script really spoke to her.

Ben Chanan: Maisie’s involvement transformed the film. We were quite proud of the script, but a script does not make a movie. When she became involved, I suddenly realized that we were going to be okay. She is reliable, talented and she can shoot very long takes.

Normally when you have an idea and want to make it real you make compromises and end up with something different. Instead, in this case the dream came true, so to speak.  

What were the challenges that you encountered while filming?

Richard Bond: There were the challenges of building a film, which maintained a certain level of suspense at the same time answering important questions.

It was also important to make clear the divide between the real and the digital world. Those were technical challenges, especially the real time interaction with the pc. This why we shot it unusually in a totally chronological order. It took us only ten days; it was a very emotional journey.

Ben Chanan: Shooting in real time and in a single location of course posed constraints, but I find it easier to work with limits. I set those rules myself.  The plausibility of it all was though, but I think we managed to solve it.

The first 15 minutes of the film were the hardest to film and to edit. There was a lot of text and just Casey (the protagonist) typing and looking at the screen. We had to think of a way to write in enough moments when Casey would speak aloud plausibly. What would she mutter to herself? When would she stop typing to make a phone call or watch a video?

How has the audience responded?

Richard Bond: We had an amazing response from the audience when it was first broadcasted and it was a younger audience than usual for the channel. We were very pleased that young people did not feel patronized. It also worked with parents, who might have to help their kids.

Ben Chanan: The movie got a very positive response; people seemed to be able to relate to it. I hope we managed to express what it is like to be a teenager in the digital age. I am a father myself. We watch our kids as they try to make sense of the world with a kind of pressure on them that we did not experience. It was hard enough being a teenagers back in my time, but imagine being a teenager in a time when everything you do is watched or recorded. Moreover, cyberbullying is different from normal bullying also because there is no turning off, it is still there when you get back from school.

Finally, a comment on winning the Prix Italia in the TV Drama category.

Richard Bond: We are delighted to have won the Prix Italia; it is an incredibly prestigious award.

Ben Chanan: It came as a great surprise and we are deeply honoured both to have won and to have shared the category with those nominees. I was particularly glad to hear that the jury composed by people from all across Europe. It means a lot to me in a time when my country decided, in my opinion unwisely, to leave the EU.