The Jury: Murder Trial’s Ed Kellie & Fiona Fletcher

ScreenDog Productions’ The Jury: Murder Trial, which premiered on Channel 4 in late February, re-creates an entire criminal trial from the original court transcripts in front of two randomly selected juries, neither of which are aware of the other. Intending to examine the British justice system, the series delves into the workings and ethical questions of an institution that is, in many ways, shrouded in secrecy. ScreenDog’s Ed Kellie, founder and executive producer, and Fiona Fletcher, head of production and welfare, discuss the production of the new series, the duty of care in working with triggering material and more.

TV REAL: Tell me about The Jury: Murder Trial. How did the program come about?
KELLIE: The idea for the program came during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. We were thinking about personal and unconscious biases and where these have the most dramatic effects, such as a jury room. We had been developing lots of crime series at the time, so we had cases in mind. It felt like a light bulb moment. I immediately got in touch with a lawyer to see if we could do this for a real case and what the legal framework might be. Once we knew there was a good public interest in that, along with the legal possibility, we started pitching it and very quickly got into conversations with Channel 4, with the emphasis that it was about testing the fairness of the system and not just an individual case. That’s where the conversation about two juries came about.

TV REAL: The show blends scripted and non-scripted. What did that mean logistically in terms of budget, planning and casting? Did the mix of those genres present creative challenges?
KELLIE: Yes. It’s basically like running a drama production, two rig productions and a live event theater production all in one go. You’re re-creating a trial, and you’re filming lots of jurors responding to it, and you’ve got all the documentary sensibilities that need to come with that. You need to make sure you’ve got parallel teams running those different aspects. It, therefore, creates logistical challenges, even cultural challenges, because different teams have different ways of doing things. If I was a drama director and someone was asking me to shoot 100 pages a day, I’d freak out. The actors also had to do huge amounts of performance, and we had to borrow all sorts of techniques to pull it off. It took a lot of dialogues, a lot of planning and a seriously ever-can-do production team as well. It really was about working out how to do it. For what it was, we delivered real value; we had to plan it really carefully as a result.

TV REAL: Fiona, I thought your role was so interesting. Can you describe what you did during the production of this series?
FLETCHER: I’m head of production and welfare. Over the past five years, I’ve trained pretty heavily in mental health, welfare, psychological safety and coaching. What that means is that I’ve got quite a lot of weight behind me, not just in terms of general health and safety standards for production but in incorporating the duty of care for the mental health and well-being of all people on set. It’s quite a unique role. Our approach to welfare and duty of care was extremely methodical: I could apply all the training that I’ve got while working with our production psychologist to then put in place a robust welfare and well-being plan that’s specific to the content and the uniqueness of the production. What we didn’t do was just take a policy off the shelf and have an untrained person implement it.

We’ve been really precise from the offset. A lot of the welfare stuff kicked in once we got the casting done. But prior to that, I was involved in the budgeting of the project. By the time it got commissioned, I came on board as a production executive. We very quickly had a crew of 50 or 60 people working with us, and we were all working remotely. So that was a bit of a mission in itself. I straddled two roles, but I was part-time in each, so I was a production exec three days a week, but during production itself, the welfare mostly took over—it certainly did when we were on set.

TV REAL: Why is duty of care important to consider and implement in the true-crime space, and what role can it play in the industry?
FLETCHER: First off, I think it’s really vital. I’ve been applying the duty of care in the roles I’ve done in the past 15 years because it’s just a humane thing to do. We’re working with contributors; we’re trusting them to come on to our show. We’re asking them to reveal parts of their lives that could be traumatic and quite difficult for them to share. They could do something on-screen that’s a little bit embarrassing for them.

In short, the duty of care is to take all reasonable measures to ensure that all contributors and crew are supported in their health, safety and well-being throughout production. These can include providing a psychologically safe environment pre-, during and post-filming and creating and implementing a unique welfare plan that is specific to the content and nature of the production.

For example, in our production, it was a real crime that happened. We’re talking about real people’s lives—real victims, real families. And then we’re asking 24 ordinary people to come into an environment where we’re asking them to listen to the transcripts of a real trial that’s being reenacted to them. And actually, we knew from the outset that that would be pretty emotionally challenging and possibly traumatic for some of them. What normally happens when you work with the commissioner is they’ll ask you to put together a duty of care protocol. But usually, it just sits in a folder; nobody actions it because [the duty of care] is a relatively new thing, and people aren’t trained in that area. For us, we were really specific about putting this duty of care protocol together. We implemented it on a day-to-day basis; it wasn’t just a box-ticking exercise. It’s not just lip service. We’re following through to make sure that each individual is genuinely looked after.

In terms of the wider television environment, the duty of care should be paramount, particularly when working in true crime.
KELLIE: We’ve all read about some of the horrific scandals that have happened in reality shows with people self-harming and worse as a result of being on television. We need to wake up to the reality that we, as producers and as human beings, have a duty of care. You could just call it humanity, kindness, whatever. It needs to be something that’s real, not just something that sits in a folder and has ticked a box somewhere.

TV REAL: With your implementation of duty of care, did you see a material difference in the health of the participants, staff and crew?
FLETCHER: It made a huge difference. People feel safe, and they trust you, and it sends a really clear message to everybody involved that you genuinely care about their mental health and well-being on set. In turn, people are excited and happy to be there. And it did create an environment that was like one big family. I reiterated to people on a regular basis that we’re potentially working with triggering content. We gave options for people to opt out if they didn’t want to be in that environment at that particular time. [We told] everybody, from runners right through to the camera crew, if they are struggling with any of the content, let us know. Step out. We’ll put a plan in place to cover that. It’s really not an issue.

Having the voice and being able to be [included in the] budget as a welfare executive, to be able to freely say to everybody, I’m here to support all of you psychologically, was genuinely brilliant and had a great vibe about it. And the feedback was really good.
KELLIE: I remember during the edit, there was a viewing crunch, but the editor was ill and feeling terrible. We were able to take the pressure off and say, No, you get well; we’ll pause the viewings. Because we treat people reasonably, the producer in that edit was flexible. So, it’s a two-way street.

I worked on an unnamed production when I had a premature baby. It was a nightmare. I was literally trying to edit and produce from the hospital while I thought my kid wasn’t going to make it. It was horrific. Those days need to change in a big way.
FLETCHER: A key model that I use is: People first. People above the money, above the deadlines. The people are more important because without the people, we don’t have a production. It did us really well.

TV REAL:How was it to partner with Channel 4? What role did the broadcaster play in developing this series?
KELLIE: Channel 4 is a great partner. There are some really talented individuals there. It is a genuine creative partnership. There was so much that needed to be worked out, from how to keep the jurors apart to how to [tell a story] with 24 characters, pull off the drama and keep the story beats coming, but at the same time, perform a trial verbatim. That’s over 700 pages of scripts. There’s so much stuff that you have to work out that it has to be quite a collaborative process because nobody can turn up to the broadcaster with a fully-fledged, perfectly operational plan. We had frequent meetings with them. They came on set, came to the edits, all of that. Necessarily, it probably has to be like that to make sure we’re meeting their expectations and delivering what they want.

TV REAL: How did The Jury: Murder Trial balance the goal of entertainment and market appeal with the heaviness of exploring the fairness of juries?
KELLIE: To me, they are not different goals. At the heart of any trial are thorny, relatable questions: Is the defendant lying? Is the key witness lying? Do I believe and trust them? It’s entertainment, but it’s got a bit more weight than that. But automatically, you start to see how people’s personal experiences, biases and group dynamics can influence verdicts. [Naturally,] people will say, Oh my God, is this even fair? So, it’s one of those fortunate projects where it’s both compelling and important. They’re not separate if we get it right. Hopefully, we have. By engaging with innocence and guilt and how people reach those decisions, you are analyzing the fairness of the system, and you are questioning whether it should be as secretive as it is or whether we should be scrutinizing the way juries reach decisions a little bit more carefully.