When 14-year-old Amber Bailey fails to return home one evening, the lives of her friends and family are turned upside down. In this fascinating 4 part drama, each episode plays with the chronology of events and focuses on the perspective of one individual connected to the case as first Amber’s family, then friends, then complete strangers become drawn into the quest to find out what happened.
Amber is an unflinching four part drama series, which tells the story of a missing teenager, Amber Bailey, and the effect her disappearance has on her family and the world around her. Each episode focuses on one character's viewpoint, revealing, piece-by-piece, an unfolding puzzle.
Amber's disappearance sets off a two-year search during which her family will go through unimaginable pressures - the guilt, the fear, and the devastating grief that come as they realise every parent's worst fear has just happened to them.
But no one person can see the whole story, and each episode provides a new perspective on this mystery, as first family, then friends, then complete strangers become drawn into the quest to find out what happened to Amber.
Amber is tender, touching, gripping and horrifying in equal measure.
Tackling the story of the missing teenager from many perspectives over a two year time period with a non-linear time structure, each episode focuses on one character or set of characters, broadening out as the series continues, and finally revealing how this girl's disappearance has an impact far greater than anyone could imagine.
Amber is an ambitious and powerful story, a riveting, suspenseful drama filled with psychological insight, unexpected twists, turns, and revelations.
Above all Amber is an emotional journey, which will keep audiences on the edge of their seats and have them talking about it the next day, questioning events and wondering if they have the answer to its mystery.
AMBER is the first TV drama series to be produced by Screenworks, which was set up in 2008 by Rob Cawley and Paul Duane.
AMBER is very much based in fact – writer/producer Rob Cawley spent many months researching the experiences of those who have had a family member go missing, as well as a year living and working with the Waterford and Shannon Air and Sea Rescue bases for the RTE documentary series Rescue 117 which he directed and shot.
From that experience, a germ of a story appeared, describing the experience of a Dublin family whose daughter goes mysteriously missing.
From its inception the story was to have four chapters – starting and ending within the family, but also moving outwards, through the involvement of a journalist who's also a friend of the family, and of an illegal immigrant who accidentally comes into possession of the missing girl's phone.
The other major decision was that the story shouldn't be genre-based, and should avoid easy answers wherever possible, trying instead to capture some of the frustration, anger, grief and bewilderment felt by the families of people who go inexplicably missing.
Research for the series included speaking to the UCC COPINE unit which monitors online child pornography and its usage, to prison officers, Gardai dealing with missing persons, prison officers, and to the Gardai who run the PULSE computer system, as well as the National Immigration Bureau and the Dublin INTERPOL office.
However the story is a work of fiction, and deals more with how individuals deal with grief and loss than with the specifics of how the police involve themselves in such situations.
Once producers Rob Cawley and Paul Duane had outlined the initial storyline and characters, these remained essentially unchanged, and the team – with the addition of talented young Dublin playwright Gary Duggan – oversaw the entire production from 2009 to its television premiere in 2012.
“The premise of a child going missing is almost unfathomable. In a situation like this parents are forced to take a practical approach even in times when their emotions are threatening to overwhelm them. This is the core of Sarah’s (Amber's mother) story in episode one. While this initial episode is based on these core emotional truths, we deliberately planted intrigue which bears fruit in later episodes when the thriller/mystery element of the series kicks in. There are clues embedded, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly, in the script and with visual clues on screen, with which the possible fate of Amber can be unraveled by the audience as the series goes along. Amber is structured so that scenes, which are shown in one episode, are revisited in another, and from another characters perspective. Sometimes the audience will be armed with a new knowledge, which will tell them about what is happening in the scene, which they previously wouldn’t have realized in earlier episodes. It’s a structure that hopefully audience will find intriguing and add a layer of entertainment, which takes people out of the human tragedies at the heart of each story.” – Rob Cawley
Choice of director was a major creative decision and when it became apparent that Thaddeus O'Sullivan was available and interested in directing Amber, it seemed like a terrific fit for the material. “A veteran director like Thaddeus knows how to find his way through this extremely complicated story, and to keep on the right path, even with a ton of conflicting production problems competing for his attention” says Rob Cawley. “A less experienced director might have gotten lost.”
Because the decision had been taken to tell the story of Amber in a non-linear way, with the viewpoints of individual characters dictating the story lines of each episode, the structures of the four episodes took on a four-dimensional aspect which needed an immense amount of planning and discussion. “We drew a map of the entire series on the wall of our office, had a timeline so that we could cross-check between the various storylines and make sure our characters could be where we needed them on any given story day, and even still it got confusing sometimes!” says Paul Duane.
The decision was taken early on to build the story's locations around the suburban end of the South Dublin LUAS line, and this informed many other visual ideas that ended up defining the look of AMBER – one was the availability of many NAMA properties in this area, giving the whole series a sense that it takes place in the long hangover after Dublin's property crash.
In consultation with Production Designer Anna Rackard and DoP Peter Robertson, the decision was taken to include as much as possible of the architecture of the boom in the visual scheme of the series. Filming along the LUAS line, and on the LUAS itself, had always been part of the plan, but the sight and sound of the tram became an inherent part of the series, right down to the sound design which saw composer Leon O'Neill recording the noises of the LUAS for inclusion in his score.
At the casting stage, the producers decided to attempt to cast as many unfamiliar faces as possible so as to avoid taking the audience out of the story. However, the exception was always going to be in casting the role of Sarah Bailey. Amber's mother could only be played by an actor with great sensitivity and experience – the temptation to go overboard would always exist in such a role.
After auditioning many actresses in Dublin and London, and even via videolink from the USA and Australia, the unanimous consensus was that Eva Birthistle had nailed the role. Her combination of strength and vulnerability ensured that the audience would never feel that this was mere grief tourism. She embodied Sarah Bailey.
Casting Ben Bailey was even more of a challenge, as there are few Irish actors in the necessary age range, with the necessary skill, who haven't already become extremely well-known and therefore possibly over-familiar. But David Murray brought a combination of charisma, experience and a battered, world-weary quality which felt exactly right for the role.
Meanwhile, of course, the title role was a crucial one. Amber has comparatively little screen time, appearing only at the beginning and end of every episode, but the audience had to buy into the character, feel her loss and miss her in the same way as the Baileys do.
The shoot date was only a week or two away and practically every teenage actress in Dublin had been auditioned when Casting Director Maureen Hughes came across two young actors, visiting the Factory in Dublin to audition for another production, and asked them to audition for the roles of Amber and her younger brother Eamon.
And with no time at all to spare, Lauryn Canny and Levi O'Sullivan were added to the cast list.
Twelve-year-old Levi only got the part – and his script – the day before the whole cast and crew gathered in the Beacon Hotel, Sandyford, for the read-through. But he impressed everyone with his consummate professionalism and his grasp of the character nuances. “Young Levi is going to go far,” says Rob Cawley. “He's a great actor, for sure, but he could just as easily be a writer, producer or director when he grows up – he's got what it takes.” And since Amber wrapped he's been called in by Jim Sheridan to work with him on his new untitled project.
Meanwhile, Lauryn Canny had no real acting experience to speak of before Amber, but her natural ability and charisma meant she could carry off this demanding and difficult role nevertheless. She took home plenty of memorabilia too, and her Granny apparently has all the posters, t-shirts and even a mug from the Find Amber campaign, all depicting Lauryn's face, as mementos.
The shoot took place over eight demanding weeks in Dublin's Sandyford Industrial Estate, where a vacant office building became Bailey Security Services, a closed-down wine bar was re-opened for the day to serve as a chic restaurant, a hotel foyer was remodelled as a spa where Sarah and Maeve go for a day of pampering, and a disused film production office (most recently used as the base for award-winning feature film Albert Nobbs) was turned into a police station and the interior of Mountjoy Prison.
Finally there were three days where a small but mobile crew went out on the LUAS line, with permission from the relevant authorities, to shoot the crucial final scenes before Amber's disappearance. Members of the public watched curiously but thankfully didn't involve themselves as Eva Birthistle and Justine Mitchell acted out one of the script's most harrowing scenes, where Sarah, suffering from sleep deprivation, imagines an encounter with her missing daughter. The results were convincing and moving, and along with some innovative sound design from the Smalltone team of Kieran Lynch and Leon O'Neill, provide one of the highlights of Episode One of Amber.
As AMBER, despite its €2 million budget, is still a low-budget drama production, Screenworks took the decision to carry out post-production in the same way that they had just produced their last two low-budget feature documentaries. The edit would take place in Meatball Facilities in Dublin's Liberties, where Barbaric Genius (AKA John Healy: You Have Been Warned) was cut, and the sound mix, grade and music recording would happen in the Factory, Barrow Street, which was set up by John Carney, Kirsten Sheridan and Lance Daly as a facilities house/creative space for Dublin's new generation of filmmakers.
There would be no frills here – the building still feels like the warehouse it used to be – but the budget allocated for the show all ended up on the screen. “Working out of the Factory was one of the best decisions we made,” says Paul Duane. “They have state-of-the-art equipment and some of the most committed and creative post staff I've ever come across, plus it helped that we had a great relationship with them from the last two films I've made being posted there. It gets a bit chilly sometimes but that just helps the creative process anyway.”
So, over the period from September 2011-February 2012, a small but dedicated team pieced together the story of Amber. The choice of editor had been made early on, as the highly experienced and narratively sophisticated Tony Cranstoun had read the script and been captivated by it. “We'd been in discussions with Tony on several other projects but the timing was never right,” says Rob Cawley. “This time it all worked out.” Cranstoun's CV included legendary TV comedy The Royle Family, and Irish features Perrier's Bounty and Death of a Superhero. “He brought real narrative rigour to the edit, as well as some remarkable ideas that weren't in the script,” says Cawley.
Finally the time came to create a title sequence for the series, and Visual FX Supervisor Enda O'Connor, working from storyboards created by the producers, got a chance to show what he was made of. Enda had been working with Screenworks for the past two years, since he brought them his dark and hilarious animated series Bewildering Life. Most of his time on Amber was spent creating work designed not to be noticed – the set extensions depicting the endless corridors of Mountjoy Prison, or the exterior of the imaginary Nerissa's Bar – but the title sequence, imaginatively depicting a mermaid in a snowglobe – one of the totemic objects left behind by the vanished Amber – as it falls to the bottom of a dark body of water, was an opportunity to craft something more personal. “Enda approached the title sequence as if it was a forty-second short film,” says Paul Duane - “Directing is something he's very interested in and he's already done a lot of work in that area, he was able to bring another layer of expertise to the titles. We're very happy with the way it gives the audience another way of approaching the mystery at the heart of Amber.”
Amber has already aired in Denmark, Australia, Sweden, Israel, Canada and all across Latin America where it has been a huge hit as UK-based distribution house Content Media secured a raft of international sales. It is soon to be released on DVD in Australia via Beyond Distribution. Netflix and Hulu have also aired the series on their video-on-demand services in the US with UK Netflix to follow after the series airs on BBC 4 in 2014.
ADDITIONAL CLUES AND FOOTAGE
The producers of Amber have scattered and intend to scatter additional footage, clues and goodies all around the Internet. Fans of the show can do their own investigation and analysis into the disappearance of Amber.
In the lead up to broadcast this will intensify. Viewers can follow @DramaAmber on twitter for details.