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Aerial filming for EURO 2016

One of the biggest aerial filming contracts this year is UK-based Aerial Camera System's (ACS) work on the UEFA EURO 2016 football tournament, which kicks off across France this summer.
UEFA’s brief for the Euro Media Group-owned specialist camera company was to enhance their additional programming offering for rights-holding broadcasters with high quality aerials of the nine host cities across France, shooting their iconic features, unique architecture and the ten stadiums where the football action will take place.
These were and are being shot using a combination of helicopters and drones.
“We tried to shoot all the cities at the same time of day to match the natural light as much as possible,” explains Aerial Camera Systems' Matt Coyde, who adds that the helicopter team included the highly experienced Robin Deacon, a camera operator and from Belgium, the pilot Philippe Martin .

“We only use very experienced camera operators and filming pilots for these projects – because it's safer, and safety is always paramount. But also because helicopters are expensive with flying time charged by the hour so the more experienced the team the more cost effectively you can achieve the shots you need.”
The aerials were shot in 4K, with the set up pairing a RED Dragon camera with a powerful Canon 30-300mm zoom lens housed in a Cineflex Ultra gimbal in the nose of the helicopter, recording to 512GB RED Rocket cards – enough for around an hours shooting at 4K resolution.

“The secret of successful aerials is having a clear idea of what you are going to do before you get up in the air,” says Coyde. “The camera operator and pilot have to work very much as a team – as if they are joined at the hip.”
An important part of the brief were low level tracking shots of the stadia which couldn't be achieved with helicopters or jibs, so a DJI Inspire drone with integral 4K camera was used – with UAV and drone pilot supplied by French company Flying Eye with camera operation by Robin Deacon, David Manton and Chris Homer from ACS. ­
The output was graded and stabilised to match the RED footage as close as possible, but Coyde warns that drone shooting in France involves plenty of red tape, even with the assistance of local Parisian production company Fighting Fish to facilitate the ground permissions and logistics.

“Drone shooting was much more complicated because of the lengthy approvals process. We needed shooting permits from local government, the Mayor's office and as well as aviation authority approvals, plus police co-ordination to cordon off streets to allow shooting down specific roads, which included hiring teams of stewards to exclude the public in busy locations across all the cities but particularly in Paris.”
“Shooting with drones in urban area in particular is getting more difficult,” declares Coyde. “In France its partly because of tighter security following the recent Paris attacks, but also because lots of hobbyists now have drones. The authorities need to check that they are going to be operated properly. In some locations they are banned completely.”

Although UAVs allow you to film low level aerials, they also have their drawbacks: primarily short flight times and restricted camera options because of limited payloads.
Coyde concludes: “At ACS we operate UAV shoots with as much attention to safety as helicopter shooting. We make sure that our pilots fly well within the recommended flight time – running sorties of around 10 minutes with the DJI Inspire.”

Posted 18 May 2016 by David Wood

The tough business of indie filmmaking

Despite the UK’s reputation for quality filmmaking, indie production is still a struggle. David Wood reports on the reality of film producing in 2016

The UK film industry is still in pretty rude health, if the latest figures from the BFI are anything to go by. Although total spending on film in 2015 was down a little (6%) to £1,410m, the combination of tax breaks, favourable exchange rates and the appeal of British creative talent still pulled in an impressive £1,117m from 47 features from US studios last year.

But another less welcome trend also continued; a decrease in the amount of spend on British independent film, down from £212m in 2014 to £198m. The number of domestic UK features in 2015 was down to 124 (224 in 2014).
Although the BFI points out that the figures will be revised upwards as more data becomes available, it’s clear that independent features are finding life hard.

British Film Commission ceo Adrian Wootton explains it’s a tough business to be in for the simple reason that producers find independent features harder to finance because distributors think they are harder to market to audiences.

“It’s not just happening in the UK – its everywhere – sales agents are paying smaller and smaller advances to producers because they think they will only make a small amount of money in any particular territory. A lot of the strength of British independent cinema has been in that £5m-£15m mark, which is increasingly squeezed.”

“Miraculously we are still making great indie films and they get a pretty good market share,” insists Wootton, pointing to the latest box office numbers from the BFI which show that indie features took an 11% share in the UK last year, although this was down from 16%.

The best performing British indie films last year were Legend, the Film4-backed gangster feature which netted £18.4m, Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (£16m) and Shaun The Sheep (£13.8m). Other notables include Suffragette (£9.8m), Lady in the Van (£12.3m), Far From the Madding Crowd (£6.2m) and Brooklyn (£5.3m).

Head of BBC Films Christine Langan, who has backed British features including Far From the Madding Crowd, Brooklyn and Lady in the Van, says indie films struggle to reach audiences for a variety of reasons. “Successful launches need luck, timing, the weather – there’s a lot that can conspire to keep people away. And you never really know whether the marketing campaign is reaching them or is giving the right message; maybe it’s not loud enough or simply not the right campaign.”

Langan adds: “Lady in the Van was a success because Sony did a magnificent job rolling it out. Plus it had Maggie Smith and was written by Alan Bennett – both hugely loved. But you can’t always bank on having national treasures.”

Lady in the Van, Brooklyn and Far From The Madding Crowd also benefitted from being adaptations. “It doesn’t always work but a project based on existing works can help get a project recognised, which in turn helps get financiers on board. But one thing is certain – it’s difficult to start from scratch.”

Faced with a tough market for mid-range features many film directors and producers have taken to high end television drama to offset the risky business of indie film.

Paulo Sorrentino, the Italian director behind Youth, backed by Film4, is also making big budget Sky Atlantic miniseries The Young Pope, while Tom Harper (Woman in Black sequel) helmed BBC1’s War & Peace.
Film producers are increasingly following the model pioneered by Working Title, the film producer behind The Danish Girl and Legend, which also runs a successful TV division.

There are plenty of upsides, as Film4’s head of distribution and strategy Sue Bruce-Smith points out. “With TV you have one key financier and you are commissioned and are able to get on with it. It’s becoming more attractive, particularly now that Netflix and Amazon are in that space.”

Another key factor is that high end TV with a budget over £1m per hour also qualifies for the same tax breaks as film, a benefit that producers made good use of in 2015 with spending up to £759m.

The saving grace of the tough British indie film scene are organisations such as the BFI Film Fund, BBC Films and Film4, which between them are expected to plough around £62m into indie film development and production in 2016.

The BFC’s Adrian Wootton argues: “The triumvirate of the BFI lottery fund, BBC Films and Film4 is absolutely crucial to the ecosystem of indie films. If you can get the BFI plus one of the broadcasters, plus some private equity and sales plus the tax credit – that’s your budget.”

Little wonder then that there is some concern about the BBC and Film4’s future ability to fund British features, with the BBC facing licence fee cuts and Film4 under the looming threat of privatisation.

Backed by a £10m-a-year licence fee funded budget, BBC Films helps create and finance between 10 and 15 films a year. Even in an era of austerity at the BBC, Langan argues that the role of BBC Films as a supporter of British film is essential. “Britain needs a film culture and the BBC needs to support it. That little £10m pot is all the BBC is doing to support independent film, and the corporation would be hard pressed to get the same amount of value spending the money in any other way,” she says.

The unique thing about BBC Films is the range, says Langan, from upcoming comedies such as Ricky Gervais in Life on the Road and Ab Fab to the experimental work of directors such as Andrea Arnold, Carol Morley and Joanna Hogg.

BBC Films has just wrapped on Denial, the story of holocaust denier David Irving’s court case against historian Deborah Lipstadt, which Langan describes as “grown up, chewy subject matter”, plus there’s Amma Asante’s next film, Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins and Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House.

Meanwhile, Film4 has just been handed a budget incrase too, with Channel 4 upping investment from £15m to £25m a year. Sue Bruce-Smith explains that Film4 has a twin pronged strategy to fund risky films from directors who are just starting out and which are, frankly, unlikely to make their money back, and to finance bigger budget more commercial propositions.

Film4 boss David Kosse, a heavy-weight recruit from Universal’s Pictures International, is expected to build Film4 into a more self-sustaining business. “At the moment we can plough it all back into film – as we have no shareholders. But we have to question whether as a commercial operator C4 would want to continue with a remit backing directors such as Jonathan Glazer, Andrew Haigh (45 Years) and Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster). I think it would have to move to a more conservative and relentlessly commercial model. Which would be a shame,” says Bruce-Smith.

It’s a case of greater risk for greater rewards, rewards which Film4 famously missed on out with Slumdog Millionaire, the huge 2008 box office hit which earned $378m worldwide, although Film4 saw very little return on its investment. “Now, if a Slumdog Millionaire came along and we saw its potential we would take a much bigger stake,” declares Bruce-Smith.

The alternative strategy for getting mid-range features backed is to get investment from big European studios interested in the indie cinema space, such as Studio Canal, Pathe and eOne, points out Robert Bernstein, head of drama at Ecosse Films. “But if you think you have a really strong, irresistible package then it’s still a good idea to go the independent route with a sales company, as you’ll get a strong response with international distributors,” adds Bernstein.

In its favour British indie film has established a breed of well-connected producers who can finance features through their relationships with studios, distributors and talent; names such as Working Titles’ Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner (The Danish Girl), David Heyman (Paddington, the Harry Potter franchise) Stephen Woolley (Carol) and Damian Jones (Dad’s Army, Ab Fab, The Lady in the Van) spring to mind.

Other positives are the current enthusiasm for indie features from big distributors. At the recent Sundance Film Festival, Fox Searchlight picked up Nate Parker’s US indie feature Birth of a Nation for £12m after a bidding war.
Langan is also buoyed by the interest from deep-pocketed OTT outfits. She reveals she has had talks with Amazon about BBC Films projects. “Players such as Amazon are out there hunting down prestigious pieces. We find there is a lot of interest in our slate – particularly if they are not interested in UK TV rights. So I remain very optimistic.”

UK film in numbers

201 films started principal photography in the UK in 2015: 47 inward investment films, 123 UK domestic and 30 co-productions. They spent a total of £1,410m

The 47 inward investment films spent £1,117m, 83% of all film production expenditure in 2015

Spend by domestic UK productions was £198m, down 7% from 2014

Cinema admissions rose 9% to 171.9m. Box office was £1,240m

Legend was the top grossing indie UK film (£18.4m), followed by The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (£16m) and Shaun the Sheep Movie (£13.8m)

The market share of independent UK features was down overall to 11% (16% 2014).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the top grossing film, taking £114m

BFI Research and Statistics Unit

Posted 25 February 2016 by David Wood

Market preview: Broadcast Video Expo

The UK’s largest production and technology exhibition, Broadcast Video Expo, takes place in London next week (23-25 Feb). David Wood finds out what’s on show

In many ways 2016 is a year of change for industry trade show BVE with new rivals on the UK scene.

To counter this, BVE (23-25 February) has responded by pitching its offering at a far wider audience, which now encompasses the pro-AV and live entertainment markets as well as broadcast, film and commercials production and post production.

All of this will be accompanied by the launch of London Entertainment Week, a week long festival of live events, awards and specialist forums from streaming media to vfx technology – all built around the platform of BVE at ExCel in Docklands.

BVE regulars will remember the impact that Arri had last year with the launch of the Alexa Mini. The previous year the Arri Amira was the star of the show, so all eyes will again be on Arri to see if it will make more important announcements at BVE.

This year Sony is taking a rain check from the exhibition and will focus investment instead on hosting days at Pinewood Studios focussed on specific kit.

But for many, BVE is still a must-go. WTS sales manager Duncan Payne insists that BVE is an important date in the diary. “It’s the timing of the show as much as the show itself that is key. Commissioning and production decisions are being made now for spring and summer shoots, so it’s a big show for format decision makers.”

Canon will be there in force showcasing its theme of ‘glass to glass 4K delivery’, with its latest range of 4K cameras, including its new C300 MkII, as well as new 4K box lenses such as the Digisuper 86 and Digisuper 90 UHD studio/field lenses, the 4K CJ12ex4.3B wide angle and CJ20ex7.8B 4K zoom and its range of 4K reference monitors.

Its ME20F-SH low light cube camera (maximum ISO four million!) which was used to good effect recently on BBC2’s Stargazing Live, will also be on show.

Canon UK sales director of Professional Imaging Austin Freshwater reveals the Canon’s expanding range of kit will see a new stand designed with a much improved viewing area this year. “Whether you think there are too many shows depends largely on what you have to shout about,” he says. “We have a broad range of products to engage our customers with so we are going to BVE and The Media Production Show this year.”

Ikegami will be using BVE for the first UK demonstration of the new Unicam UHD 4K-native camera – and that’s to encourage feedback from potential customers, says Ikegami. Also making their UK debuts at the show will be the Ikegami 2K/4K rack-mountable optical-fibre transmission links and HDL-57 compact HD camera, as well as its 17” and 25” Grade-1 OLED monitors and the full range of LCD monitors. Other camera manufacturers with a strong presence include Panasonic which will be unveiling details of a low cost version of its relaunched Varicam camera.

In the media recorder world AJA and Convergent Design will be on hand, with AJA showcasing new products and displaying its Ki Pro Ultra 4K/UltraHD/2K/HD recorder, KONA and Corvid video I/O and encoding cards, HDBaseT and Fiber solutions.

For DoP and director Olly Wiggins, who is also co-owner of hire company S+O, the focus will be firmly on lenses, camera, lights and grips. “LED lighting is changing fast technologically so it makes sense to keep an close eye on these advances.” Including presumably the new Kino Flo Select range of LED lighting on the Cirro Light stand.

Going hand in hand with the rise in 4K and HDR acquisition has been a resurgence in interest in lenses, either new or re-conditioned vintage lenses, so expect to see more companies offering lenses and lens support services such as True Lens Services. Wiggins adds that as a DOP and director he will be on the look out for new kit that will appeal to the general hire market. “What I hope is that as a working DOP I can pick up on useful new kit that other hire companies may not spot so quickly.”

WTS production specialist and freelance cameraman Patrick van Weeren underlines that HDR will be a big BVE talking point this year. “That’s because of all the new technologies – high frame rate, wider colour space and high resolution – high dynamic range is probably the cheapest to deliver and easiest to appreciate for the consumer. Netflix, Amazon and BT are among the many content providers who are very keen on it and almost 90% of the professional cameras launched in the last two years are able to capture an HDR image.”

The themes of 4K and HDR workflows will also dominate discussion in storage and post production, with most exhibitors having at least something to show regarding HDR workflows – from reference monitors to colour correction tools.

Storage platform Quantum will be showing its latest high-performance workflow solution Xcellis –which makes its first UK trade show outing. Engineered for high capacity media and entertainment infrastructures and workflows, it is powered by Quantum’s StorNext platform. Quantum’s Q-Cloud services including Q-Cloud Archive and Q-Cloud Vault will also be on show.

Says Eban Clancy, who has set up new post outfit Phantom Sun: “We are looking particularly at storage and remote workflows. Not just ISIS and Quantum, but TV Labs, Pixit and QNAP.”

According to Clancy there will be a lot of interest in where major post production players such as Avid and Adobe are going with remote connectivity. “Although we always want to edit on Avid we are looking at combining it with other remote editing platforms.”

This year EditShare will be showcasing the full line of XStream storage systems (Xstream EFS, Xstream HT and Xstream ST), as well as the AirFlow private cloud.

Pixit Media will be showing software defined storage for 4K playback for Google, NetApp, Mellanox, Digital Vision, The Foundry and Adobe.

On the Root6 stand the latest version of its ContentAgent file management tool will be centre stage, as will storage, management and archive – with technology from Object Matrix, production asset management from Flavoursys’ Strawberry and XenData archive management.

Root6 will also be demoing HDR workflows using colour correction tools such as BaseLight.

Avid is a big presence at BVE once again this year, with a focus on Media Composer v8.5, and its integration of ORAD’s 3D realtime graphics into the MediaCentral platform for the first time.

Plus there will be Avid’s latest Cloud solutions on display.

Pro audio reseller HHB stand will be debuting Avid’s Pro Tools Dock, a new EUCON control surface that works with iPad and Avid’s free iOS app, Pro Tools Control.

Whatever your specific interest, BVE is a great venue to take the temperature of the industry and see what’s coming up on the horizon, underlines Canon’s Austin Freshwater. “The first thing I do is to wander around and see what’s new from other people, by which I don’t mean our direct competitors in the camera space, but what’s new from the companies which we would partner with on technology – from lens adaptors to media recorders.”

Posted 18 February 2016 by David Wood

TV editing to become more remote in 2016

Remote editing and grading is set to make further inroads into broadcast post production in the year ahead, with many producers and post houses now considering it standard practice, certainly for shortform, graphics and idents work.

The UK’s biggest VFX players such as The Mill, MPC and Framestore have been using T-VIPs for point-to-point video transport technology for some time but now a much wider range of editing tools are offering remote solutions.

Forscene has proved itself to be a very affordable and scalable proxy-based workflow tool. Increasing numbers are also using Avid’s web-based remote editing platform MediaCentral, including Silverglade, Dock 10 and Splice as well as in-house promo departments at broadcasters such as NBC Universal and colleges such as Ravensbourne.

But whatever remote editing system you use (EditShare’s Flow and Adobe Anywhere also offer remote options) over the next year we can expect them to become more widespread. That’s because, as Dock 10’s head of production Paul Austin points out, there is a growing expectation from producers that they can see rushes and perform basic logging and sync pulling tasks wherever they are.

Secondly, post houses are more than happy to let them, because it allows facilities to sweat their assets – primarily premium edit suites – by keeping the less profitable activities (viewing rushes, logging and sync pulling) out of the edit. As Root6’s Rupert Watson points out: “Facilities are like hotels – they have a fixed number of rooms which they can only sell once. Remote workflows allow facilities to reserve their premium rooms for those that are prepared to pay premium rates.”

Watson adds: “Remote editing also appears to give facilities a layer of stickiness – MediaCentral is increasingly resembling the loss leading offlines of the past. The flexibility remote editing offers is a clear benefit to the producer, but the post house will still store the media, and the edits that get done are in the facility’s database, so their clients are not going anywhere.”

But anyone adopting remote workflows in 2016 should bear in mind that the technology is complex, and has some way to go before it can completely replicate the experience of editing on an in-house Media Composer hooked up to shared storage.

Some post houses report that remote editing can be ‘laggy’ and is more suited to short form content, idents and graphics than multilayered, long form video. Over the next year we can expect remote editing technology to become more mature, bug free, reliable and robust.

We will also see post houses which have more storage and performance capability than edit suites creating pop up offices using remote editing technology.

New converts to remote editing can expect it to change the way a facility operates, says Silverglade’s Jason Tomkins. “We have found that production teams expected to be able to increase users as the tool grows in popularity.” Silverglade recently upped its 30 MediaCentral seats to 45 to cope with demand and is now taking a close look at Media Composer Cloud.

Posted 06 January 2016 by David Wood

Will 2016 be the year virtual reality takes off?

After years of hype, we are going to hear a lot about virtual reality and its more catch-all moniker ‘immersive entertainment’ in 2016. That’s because a series of major technology players will be following up the recent launch of Samsung’s Gear VR gaming headset with VR headsets of their own.

Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive are both heading for Q1 consumer releases, Sony has is own headset PlayStation VR for the PS4 gaming console lined up while Google is offering an entry level Cardboard viewer and augmented reality glasses Magic Leap, to rival Microsoft’s HoloLens.

In its recent report on the fast-growing VR market, Futuresource Consulting concluded that 2016 is set to be a big year for VR as heavy investment from some of the world’s biggest tech companies bears fruit in the form of both VR technology and content.

Adam Cox, senior analyst at Futuresource Consulting, says: “Some of the world’s largest and most prominent companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Sony have a great deal of faith in the new technology and are putting in place the ecosystems required to pave the way for a successful introduction to the mass market. With the backing of such prominent companies, its outlook is exciting.”

One of the big 2016 growth markets will be mobile, with many of the newly released headsets aimed at offering VR experiences over smartphones, which all have large amounts of processing power and storage. “The processing power inside people’s pockets in their phones is the big underutilised technology. My new phone has more resolution than my TV at home,” says Phil Harper, creative director at specialist VR producer Alchemy, a subsidiary of Atlantic Productions.

2016 will see many companies opening specialist VR production arms to make the most of the VR boom – such as Mativision which opened up in London in November.

Simon Craddock, MD at hire company Onsight, which offers high end production services to the emerging VR content industry, including camera rigs based around the Red Epic Dragon and GoPro, observes: “The thing that often holds things back with new video technology is that you have to buy into the display device. The big advantage with mobile VR is that you already have it and it gets an upgrade every year.”

But as Phil Harper adds, demand for VR will only be stimulated by compelling VR content. ‘The demand won’t arrive by itself – there has to be something happening to make viewers go to their headsets.”

2016 will certainly be notable for an explosion in the market for VR content on mobile. At the lower end are a series of Google VR apps designed for the Cardboard viewer such as Expeditions – a VR teaching aid allowing teachers to take their classes to places they would be unlikely to visit on a school trip – like space or the Great Barrier Reef – and InMind, an exploration of the human brain which sits alongside a host of other VR apps and games on GooglePlay.

At the other end of the scale will be the release of big experiences for tethered VR devices such as Gear VR, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR (formerly Morpheus) which will offer higher quality immersive experiences on powerful consoles such as PS4 – many of which are VR versions of existing console games.

Alchemy’s latest Attenborough project Reef – the follow up to First Life – will be released next year, with Harper tipping Robinson – the Journey on PS4 as one of the strongest looking VR launches.
In terms of the genres most likely to take to virtual reality it’s a case of the usual suspects. Says Craddock: “It’s broadly the same as those who were most interested in HD, 3D and 4K – genres such as natural history, sport and music in particular.”

We will also hear a lot more from the more established broadcasters on VR next year, with Discovery launching a series of VR environmental films under the Racing Extinction banner, while Sky is now trialling VR news reports. It has also partnered with cinema VR tech company Jaunt and is testing VR on Sky productions Critical, Penny Dreadful, Trollied, Fortitude and Got to Dance, as well as boxing and motor racing. The BBC has a £100k fund for VR ideas and is conducting trials of its own at the NHU and in news.

As Futuresource’s Adam Cox points out, VR is still firmly in the innovation phase with everything to play for.

But already it’s clear that for some the kind of immersion offered by VR isn’t the endgame in terms of immersive experiences. For Ncam CEO Nic Hatch augmented reality provides the ultimate with devices such as Google’s Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens placing virtual content into the real world. The aim is to make that virtual experience so realistic that the human brain can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.

“If vfx is bad it can ruin the storyline and the suspension of disbelief in the mind of the viewer is harder to achieve. We are trying to get the virtual into reality not reality into the virtual. To provide a seamless match so you can’t tell the difference – that’s our goal.” ­

Google Cardboard headsets are a cheap entry level device designed to stimulate interest in VR and VR applications. Reputedly designed by two Google engineers during the company’s “20% time off” it is built from simple, low cost components. People can get assembly instructions online and make it themselves or buy ready-made third party Cardboard viewers – but there is no official vendor. It works by fastening your smartphone into the back of the device and viewing VR apps.

Gear VR
Samsung Gear VR is a mobile VR headset developed in collaboration with Oculus VR, the VR designers behind the more expensive Oculus Rift headset, which is heading for a 2016 release. The benefits of Gear VR is that it is an affordable yet decent spec headset which offers an immersive experience. The drawback is that it is only compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, and Note 
5 devices. Gear VR is not yet available in the UK.

Posted 05 January 2016 by David Wood

UK screen funds: what's on offer

There’s millions of pounds of funding available in the nations and regions for film and TV productions. David Wood reveals who has the money and how producers can tap in to it

There are three key regional funds for programme makers to tap into in England. The biggest fund outside of London is Screen Yorkshire which has £15m composed largely of European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) money and has funded a total of 27 films since it launched in February 2012. These projects are estimated to have injected over £21m into the local economy.

Currently in post are features Dad’s Army and Hunter’s Prayer, starring Sam Worthington, a thriller which is Screen Yorkshire’s biggest single investment to date. World Productions TV drama Dark Angel started shooting this month.

Head of investments at Screen Yorkshire Hugo Heppell expects to make £4m of investments this year spread across ten different projects, although what will happen in 2016 is less certain.

To date ERDF money has been distributed through nine English regions, of which Yorkshire was one. But these will now be broken up into 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships, which will see government working with local business over much smaller geographical areas.  Another uncertainty is to what extent the UK government, which has backed the creative industries through its tax credits scheme, will support less recognised areas such as the North East or the Midlands over London and Manchester. Says Heppell: “The crucial question is whether that remains London-focussed or whether there is a genuine willingness and desire to see the creative industries grow across the UK as a whole.”

To further underline its ambition in the north east, Screen Yorkshire is opening a major new studio space at former RAF site Church Fenton, a 100,000 sq ft studio space. Heppell explains the logic: “It’s about pulling things and people together and making things happen in the region.”

“Yorkshire Studios can help to do this by bringing in major productions. A big series such as Game of Thrones has made a big economic and social impact and transformed the creative industries in Belfast. A studio can do that if you get the right productions in because of the consistency of work they can provide to a lot of people.”

Elsewhere, funding body Creative England manages two funds. The first is the lottery based Creative England Production Fund (CEPF) – an annually replenished fund which currently has £750K to invest before April 2016.
It also manages the ERDF-backed West Midlands Production fund, which has £2.8 to spend before the scheme finishes at the end of the year. Recent projects have included Spooks: The Greater Good, The Call Up and She Who Brings Gifts.

Creative England senior film executive Richard Holmes explains: “CEPF is ‘regional, regional, regional’. Which means that it’s intended for filmmakers who live there to make a film which is set there and which is also about the region in some way. We can put in between £50k to £200k – and the maximum production budget of a qualifying film is £2m so it’s really aimed at new and emerging filmmakers.”

“If you are established filmmaker you might be too big for CEPF, in which case the WMPF would be more relevant, which is much more commercially-focussed ERDF investment.That can be £100k to £1m – the idea being to bring film and high end TV drama into the West Midlands, build up an infrastructure and to get us our money back.”

The outlook for regionally-based TV drama grew brighter again this summer when Creative England teamed up with Canadian sales and distribution giant Entertainment One (eOne) specifically to develop and finance a TV drama slate from regional producers in the UK.

Things could finally be looking up for Scotland’s beleaguered film industry, which has for years played second fiddle to neighbours in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. To date Scotland’s success as a film destination has been held back by a limited amount of incentive funding and lack of infrastructure ­– particularly a shortage of studio space to support film and TV production.

As it stands agency Creative Scotland oversees a £4m lottery film fund for 2015-16 which is stretched over a wide remit from development, to production funding and support for filmmakers at markets and festivals.
But Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has raised hopes by recently pledging a a multi-million pound inward investment fund to match those available in the other nations and which would at least double size of the £4m Creative Scotland fund.

Creative Scotland’s director, film and media Natalie Usher has said: “Everyone in the UK has the film tax credit or high-end TV tax credit but if a nation has an additional pot of funding that makes it stand out from the rest – plus Scotland has fantastic crews and amazing locations – you can create a package that is very compelling.”

Creative Scotland’s much publicised Film Strategy 2014-17 document also prioritised the creation of a film studio for Scotland to act as a focus for activity. Creative Scotland has ring-fenced £1m of investment for the studio, although at present plans have yet to be made concrete. 

What the Scottish film industry needs more than anything now is a big tentpole success story such as England had with Harry Potter or Northern Ireland pulled off with Game of Thrones to really put it on the map. More productions such as US network Starz’s TV series Outlander ­– backed by Creative Scotland and which added £20m to the economy in 2013/14 – will be a step in the right direction. 
Creative Scotland distributes funding from two primary sources, the Scottish Government and the lottery.

There is also a £1m Screen Skills Fund which film and TV has access to plus a film, high end TV and animation tax credits advance facility to the tune of £2m for the period 2015-16.

The Welsh government’s twin-pronged offer of studio space tailored to film and TV production paired with the availability of investment funds for projects that conduct over half of principle photography in Wales seems to be bearing fruit.

The 180,000 sq ft Pinewood Studio Wales facility in Cardiff recently signed up the multi-million pound theatrical reboot of horror film The Crow to add to feature Take Down.

Pinewood marketing chief Andrew Smith reveals the studio is also actively looking at “high end TV projects, now that the high end tax reliefs are in place for TV”, with announcements expected in this area soon.

Pinewood, which manages the £30m Welsh government’s Media Investment Budget as well as the £25m Isle of Man fund, has also announced its ambition to manage new funding pots, with the forthcoming Scottish fund designed to attract inward investment a likely new opportunity.

Funding body Ffilm Cymru Wales also has a pot of lottery cash to spend, although there are more strings attached to these awards. It is prepared to fund projects up to £200K, and a further £100k is available via Ffilm Cymru Wales’ new Magnifier scheme, aimed at supporting project costs such as digital development or the exploitation of IP. 

Productions need to have partnership funding in place and Ffilm Cymru Wales will co-finance alongside other lottery bodies including the BFI, Creative Scotland, Northern Ireland Screen and Regional Screen Agencies, provided the lottery contribution does not exceed 50% of the total.

Qualification criteria for successful lottery funding include the quality, potential and originality of the work, the benefit to Welsh filmmakers and the depiction of Wales and Welsh life.

Northern Ireland
If you were writing a book on how to build a production industry you’d probably want to take a close look at Northern Ireland, which offers a perfect case study in creating a viable infrastructure to support a thriving film and TV industry.

Incoming productions shooting entirely in Ireland can now theoretically access relief on 100% of their budgets via the Irish and UK tax credits. They are also eligible for further production funding from the Irish Film Board and Northern Ireland Screen.

Northern Ireland Screen, which was an early funder in the Game of Thrones, now has an impressive £42.8m funding pot which came into effect last year and runs until 2018. This is forecast to add £250m to the local economy through inward investment films, animation, TV drama, factual/entertainment TV and indie film. 

The money comes from a range of sources including the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, lottery funding and the BFI.

Northern Ireland Screen offers production funding in the form of a recoupable loan. The fund is intended to assist in completing budgets on productions which are almost fully financed. Northern Ireland Screen will not consider a production with less than 65% of its funding already in place.

Northern Ireland Screen is looking for productions which contribute to building a sustainable screen industry in Northern Ireland and which can show a direct economic benefit to the region.
Projects must be commercially viable and able to demonstrate clear possibilities for commercial exploitation.

The Northern Ireland Screen Fund, for feature film, television and digital content production funding, can invest a maximum of £800,000, up to a ceiling of 25% of the overall project budget. However, very few projects are awarded the maximum amount.

Incoming productions will be required to spend a proportion of the total production budget in Northern Ireland, with the funding body outlining different spend ratios for different types of media.

Posted 12 August 2015 by David Wood

High Dynamic Range: What you need to know

One of the hot topics of NAB was High Dynamic Range (HDR). Where 4K promises better pictures by adding pixels, HDR provides more brightness, contrast and richer colours, a benefit which many think will be more readily appreciated by consumers.

The current 8-bit video standard for TV allows for a maximum of 256 ‘shades’ of any one colour to be displayed and fully saturated colours, under the currently used Rec. 709 colour standards, are well within the spectrum that the human eye can see.

Compare and contrast the Rec. 2020 standard for colour, which is the maximum colour space proposed for the new 4K Ultra HD standard and HDR – which offers vastly more depth and shades of colour. 

The result is a more realistic, immersive cinematic experience with greater depth, richer colors and more details in both the shadows and highlights.

Little wonder then that following CES in January, where many TV manufacturers were demonstrating HDR features, at NAB manufacturers were rushing to incorporate HDR capability into editing and grading products.

HDR front-runner Dolby has licenced its Dolby Vision HDR technology to TV manufacturer Vizio in the US, while Warner Bros has announced HDR content through OTT service Vudu.

Technicolor announced a new high dynamic range (HDR) grading service for movies, TV shows and commercials plus an HDR plugin for broadcasters and producers to create their own HDR content.

The Technicolor Intelligent Tone Management plugin can be licensed to colour grading platforms including Autodesk’s Lustre and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve.

SGO Mistika now enables the handling of HDR material in real time, using the newly integrated Mistika Precision Panel.

Hanno Basse, CTO at 20th Century Fox and president of the studio and manufacturer coalition UHD Alliance said at NAB that he “fully expected that every release we make now will have an HDR grade”.

While Hollywood is convinced, the signs are that the early running will be made by the OTT players such as Amazon and Netflix, whose CTO thinks that HDR is more important than 4K when it comes to creating a better quality image.

Amazon will launch an HDR service this year, with Netflix also fast tracking the technology.

It’s a new process for post houses to think about, with HDR content needing a different post production process to HD post– the goal being to preserve more of what the camera originally captured.

But hurdles to HDR adoption still remain, with standards being a rate determining step; there is as yet no standard for HDR TV manufacture.

Consensus over what is the right level of brightness for HDR is still needed, with the brighter versions of HDR over 1,000 nits likely to fall foul of TV energy consumption rules.


Posted 19 May 2015 by David Wood

Save the Children's Grand Designs parody - posted at Envy

Here's a thought for any parents living in fear of the start of the summer holidays.

Get your kids to embark on a den building project in the manner of Grand Designs.

That's what Save the Children suggests anyway in its new online film which encourages children to sign up for Den Day (running from 29th May to 6th June) and let their imaginations run riot by transforming their sofas, school desks and garden nooks and crannies into dens.

Directed by Karen Cunningham from Pop-Up Films, the spot follows a group of youngsters in the planning and construction of their ‘architectural gem’, and is presented by an articulate young host who critiques their efforts in the style of Kevin McCloud.

Post-production on the film came from Envy, who provided Flame and Grade work. 

Envy colourist Belgin Kaplan said: “In terms of the grade, Karen wanted to keep it natural, so we didn't stylise the film but picked some elements and colours to subtly create a greater depth and focus so the grade wouldn’t look too heavy.

“Our approach was to match all the shots and create a warm feeling. It was mainly shot on a nice sunny day but we enhanced that a little too.”

Sukey Richardson, producer at Pop-Up Films, comments: “It was a pleasure being involved in a project for such a worthy cause, Den Day enables children to have fun, be creative and help raise money for Save The Children.”

Den Day kicks off on 29th May and will run until 6th June so that schools, friends and families can all join in the fun.


Creative Agency: Save The Children
Creative Director: Jessica Crombie
Production Company: Pop-Up Films
Director: Karen Cunningham
Producer: Sukey Richardson

Post Production: ENVY
Colourist: Belgin Kaplan
Flame Artist: Kieran Baxter
Post Producer: Jocelyn Silburne

Editor: Owen Oppenheimer @ The Quarry
Sound Design: 750MPH
Casting: Hannah Simons

Posted 13 May 2015 by David Wood
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