New BBC Three comedy pilot PRU shines a light on an often misunderstood world. Where kids kicked out from mainstream school get the chance to turn things around. In this guest blog Exec Producer Leah Henry shares how Fully Focused came to make the pilot and why TV and Film need to listen to young voices.
Imagine pitching to a TV commissioner an idea about a Pupil Referral Unit…using comedy…well our team at Fully Focused Productions did and it’s getting people talking. I’m Leah Henry, one of the Executive Producers of new BBC Three Comedy PRU.
PRU is a comedy about a group of teens struggling to navigate adolescence in a Pupil Referral Unit, a school for excluded kids. Told through the eyes of four charismatic but complex young people where sometimes even the smallest of obstacles can feel like the end of the world.
Halil, Hanna, Jaden and Belle; four very different 15-year-olds who have one thing in common. They have all been permanently excluded from mainstream education and find themselves having to go through Year 10 together at their local PRU, a world seldom seen by the public.
PRU’s authenticity is derived from both the writers’ and director’s experience of working closely over a period of years with similar young people in PRU’s and schools across London. Fully Focused Productions is a completely unique non-profit organisation that uses 100% of our income to provide free training and support to young people through our MYM Academy, so they can access careers in Film and TV. Many of the young people we work with face significant obstacles in their lives, be it low-income backgrounds, experience of the justice system, mental ill-health or simply being unable to prosper in mainstream education.
We are also proud to have founded the MYM (Million Youth Media) Channel on YouTube, an entirely youth-curated platform which showcases young filmmakers work to our 374k subscribers, with views currently exceeding 62 million across all the content.
Fully Focused and MYM have youth voices at the core of everything we do, young people tell us they feel misrepresented, misunderstood and frustrated by their own experiences and how mainstream media portrays their communities. Through producing, writing and directing their own content and being involved every step of the way for our bigger commissions (such as BBCThree’s PRU) they feel valued, inspired and learn vital career-path skills. Storytelling is quite simply a transformative process.
PRU came about because we wanted to showcase that young people, no matter what their background or circumstance, have so much to offer and each has a story to tell. Every one of the cast are based in reality, allowing us to humanise our protagonists whilst shining a comedic light on the daily struggle faced by staff in alternative provision settings such as pupil referral units.
I am also the Casting Director for PRU and as with all our Fully Focused productions, we wanted to have a democratic casting process that attracted young talent who may not have come through the normal routes (eg, expensive drama college or via Agents). We did a nationwide call-out for the cast on our social media. The response was hugely positive and I watched hundreds of audition tapes before calling back a shortlist for firstly Zoom auditions (due to Covid) and then social distanced in-person final auditions to select the cast. Many of the actors and supporting cast have direct experience of attending a PRU and they helped to provide even further insight during the rehearsal process.
We are totally thrilled with the reception from both the press, and most importantly, our young audience now that PRU is live on BBC iPlayer (do go and watch!) and we are delighted to say the BBC have commissioned a four-part series that we will be filming later this year – so stay tuned!
About the Author
Leah Henry joined Fully Focused in 2015 as Fundraising and Business Development Manager to secure funds and grow the organisation; supporting their work as a not-for-profit independent production company and funding their youth-focused training programme. Leah also co-produces many of Folly Focused’s biggest films and works across casting to secure the best established and bright new talent.
Leah has worked in television and the arts for 22 years, before joining Fully Focused she spent several years as a BBC Commercial Executive, part of a team responsible for the co-production, funding and brand management of flagship International BBC titles including Top Gear, Strictly Come Dancing, Dragons Den, The Office, BAFTA award winning Mitchell & Webb, etc. Leah also ran her own company offering promotional films, brand communications and media consultancy services on a freelance basis.