Julian Farino began his Granada career in the mid 1980s as a Researcher. He later became a director and was a director on Coronation Street during the early 1990s. He is now a well known director of top rated American TV series such as Sex In The City and Entourage and lives in Hollywood.
I joined Granada around 1986/87. I started off as a researcher in documentaries which is what I thought I wanted to do, they were all shot on film. I never did anything in studio or multi-camera. I had been on the Granada training scheme for directors. I never thought about anything other than documentaries but at the end of the training the person who had been in charge of my training, Gareth Morgan, said that I should do drama. So within a few months I did some studio, such as What The Papers Say and then I was thrown in the deep end with Coronation Street in 1991.
It was quite scary because I had never worked with actors before and I didn’t really know much about Coronation Street apart from the mythology of it. I knew that there was a celebrity factor but I didn’t know what it would mean for working on it and I was quite young. I think what served me best was my naivety to be honest. I went into it as I did everything – how’s the story being told, what can you do to effect the storyline. I went in a little bit blind so I was no overawed, I didn’t quite know the stature of some of the people.
The very first episode I had to direct had a big storyline in it where Rita Fairclough hears that her husband has a brain tumour. I remember you used to rehearse all the studio scenes with an average of about five minutes each so that you could block the actors, get as much dialogue in as you could, before coming back two days later to shoot the scene. I remember the first scene I had in that storyline was with Barbara Knox and William Russell who played Ted Sullivan her husband. And Barbara Knox hears the news and started crying in the scene. I looked at her and thought that wasn’t quite what I had in mind. I said I wanted her to play it dead straight, I didn’t want her to cry in this scene. She looked at me like ‘who do you think you are boyo,’ it was a look to kill. Then she said ‘why ?’ and I said, ‘well there are five scenes in this episode and maybe the first reaction should be shock and the tears are what we should see in the final scene.’ After that I was on trial with her. It was like ‘I’m going to test you,’ at every stage of the week’s work. When I walked away from that scene, after maybe 20 minutes, instead of 5 minutes, the Assistant Floor Manager, walked away with me to the next scene in the Kabin and said, ‘that’s the bravest thing I’ve seen.’ And I said ‘what do you mean ?’ He said if Barbara Know cries for you, you’re supposed to go down on a bended knee.’ To be quite honest it was my naivety that saw me through, I was just trying to find my way through the enormous amount of things I had to cope with. If I had been in awe of it, I could have been eaten for supper.
The Street was doing three episodes a week then, we had just changed over from two a week. There were a few ripples, stress on writers and the workload, etc. People had got fearful and made a bit of a noise but I think fairly soon people got into the routine and accepted that it could work and that the actors were not overstretched and the system could cope with it. I never felt too daunted by it all. Sue Pritchard was producing who was also relatively new to it. Sue was flogging herself trying to cope. Producing is one of the worst jobs on the street – you’re handling the publicity, the scripts the day to day problems, you’ve any number of people of different temperaments knocking on your door. A job from hell I would have thought.
I did the Street for a year and a half, doing 39 episodes. Having Jack stranded on the roof was another big storyline I had. I remember Raquel very fondly. I love the character Raquel and Sarah Lancashire was one of the great treats for me because she was really nice as well. I didn’t introduce any major new characters to the show though.
The Street had a strong element of comedy then. It did more than play just a dramatic storyline. I remember Raquel learning French – that was a great storyline – it didn’t have to go anywhere, it was just enjoyable. Curly and Reg at the supermarket was pure comic counterpoint to any of the other drama that was going on. Jack and Vera, Phyllis and Percy. The Street then, as opposed to now, was that it was still populated with far more older characters. Jill Summers was another diamond for me and Percy was still there. It had that flavour of older, wiser and often funnier. It seems to me the Street has gone for a more youthful thread, it’s more dramatic with more headline stories. What set it apart for me from the other soaps was that we could do nothing and be successful because the others needed a momentum. All good drama is peppered with comedy in my opinion. Great drama can come out of comedy. Look at the Likely Lads. Nothing happened but the amount of character revealed through doing nothing was fantastic. Everybody loves comedy, the most serious of stories should have lines like that.
I do think it has lost that comedy element a bit. Perhaps the writers might have found someone like Reg too comic a character but it was a shame when he left. I think the balance of drama and comedy has tipped much more towards drama and that’s a shame. I do find it relatively thin on humour compared to how it was. The Street also has always had great losers – Jack Duckworth – he was a great creation, he’s such a basic coward. When I first saw the Battersbys I thought ‘alarm bells’ but they have bedded them in really well. I think Les Battersby’s one of the great comedy characters because the comedy comes from who he is rather than from gags.
In my time they were always trying to get the lighting better and I don’t think we have quite nailed that yet. Other soaps are better with their lighting but generally things were much as ever. They were few changes. As a director you had to have a respect for the Street – it’s character led rather than stylistically led. You can’t be trixy.
Because I was very green when I started, I just got on with it. The quantity of material you got through was enormous, a lot of preparation. On average we were doing 25 scenes an episode. Some writers liked short scenes, others longer. Of all the stuff I’ve done subsequently, people are far more impressed and interested in my having worked on Coronation Street . That’s what they want to know about. It was real pressure working on it, working out the scenes, how you were going to shoot then and so on. I remember some guy asking me at a dinner party one evening what I did. I told him I worked on Coronation Street and he said ‘ Oh that must be nice only working three days a week !’ The naivety of it was great !
There were different kind of actors, young novices, the old timers who had been doing it for years, old theatrical hands with great tradition. There is a myth that the characters know the Street better than you and won’t like being told what to do but every story is written for a reason and with the majority – some were lazy no doubt – and some were young and were on a rollercoaster – but a lot of the cast there appreciated dialogue. Otherwise it’s boring to come in and trot out lines off pat. It’s about finding the mood, and attitude of the scenes. That’s what good actors like. On arrival there was a degree of testing, and why not. They wanted to know how you would cope. Julie Goodyear definitely put you through your paces when you were a newcomer but not in an unreasonable way, not tantrums, but questions, do you know your onions. There were certain tensions between members of the cast which were unspoken but open secrets. I never thought Julie Goodyear and Barbara Knox liked each other but on screen they acted as friends and confidantes. They both had that queen been status.