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Where next for Factual television?

Ahead of the 15th Televisual factual festival, its producer Pippa Considine takes the temperature of the non-fiction market


This year’s Televisual Factual Festival takes place at a critical moment for the TV industry. The long-heralded streamer wars are beginning in earnest, with the promise of yet more international commissions, while regional UK initiatives are turning into a reality. And with an election looming and Brexit centre stage, Dorothy Byrne’s inspiring MacTaggart lecture is still ringing in the collective TV industry ears, demanding more in-depth, serious documentary.


“On the news, I’m hearing every day that the very fabric of our democratic system is being ripped to shreds,” said Byrne, delivering her call to arms at the Edinburgh International TV Festival. “But where is this crisis being analysed outside of the news? UK broadcasters still make some great investigations but where are the programmes which shake all our assumptions about society? We have to stop being afraid of serious analysis authored by big brainy people. We have the ability and we have the airtime. Let’s make some really clever and difficult programmes.”



Byrne will take to the stage again at the Televisual Factual Festival to move this conversation forward. Together with BBC controller of factual commissioning Alison Kirkham and BAFTA- winning film-makers Brian Woods, founder of True Vision, and Sarah Macdonald, founder of production company Make Waves, they will tackle the question of what’s needed to bring more of this important content to screens in the UK.


Sarah Macdonald has worked extensively in undercover reporting, beginning on major UK news and current affairs titles. She laments the lack of investment in TV current affairs in the UK, while respecting what still gets made on shoestring budgets. “We have such incredible talent  - more than any country in the world. But it’s just wasted.” Macdonald has found success making investigative documentary on the international stage and working on docs with a campaigning heart. “People, especially young people, don’t want to be lectured or watch endless negativity, there’s a very interesting change to telling stories.”


Macdonald’s experience of growing her production company business overseas is part of a bigger trend, with international commissioning continuing to be the biggest growth area for UK TV producers. The most recent Pact census showed UK primary commissions from international services has risen by around 20% to nearly £704bn in 2018. 



Much of this increasing international investment is in drama, but the streaming services, chiefly Netflix and National Geographic TV, are increasing investment in their factual slate. 


Netflix is working with an expanding number of UK companies. Factual indies Quicksilver and Caravan produced the true-crime original Killer Ratings, which will be the focus of a Festival session, following its journey from pitch to seven-part series. ”We were able to just concentrate on telling a long and complicated story in the way that did it justice,” says Dinah Lord, managing director of Caravan. “It was a creatively fulfilling experience, not having to be limited by the normal consideration of tailoring it (entirely appropriately) for a particular channel’s audience, TX time, or for length of individual episodes and the series as a whole.”


Meanwhile National Geographic TV, now part of the Disney + offering, has more opportunity to scale content up. That doesn’t mean that all its commissions need to be monsters. UK-based commissioning editor Bernadette McDaid is looking for originality, ambition, global appeal and scale, across a myriad of price points. 


Discovery is positioning itself as the biggest unscripted play on the world map. Discovery president and ceo David Zaslav sits atop a multi-billion dollar content budget. Speaking at this year’s RTS Convention in September, he underscored the intention to stand aside from the intensifying competition that is focused on the scripted space. “We want to be in niches that people are passionate about,” he said. “We will lean aside and let the rest of those guys have their way with each other.”



Working out of Discovery’s Los Angeles office, Howard Swartz, senior vice president of production and development of documentaries and specials for Discovery Channel in the US, is joining the Festival line-up to talk about opportunities in the US and beyond. Swartz also commissions for event programming, including Shark Week, Egypt Live and the recently premiered Serengeti. He works directly with UK producers such as Arrow Media, to commission content for the US channel and potentially for streaming services.


Meanwhile, Discovery UK has increased spend by 85% across its 18 domestic channels, having roughly doubled its size in two years and with the imminent UK launch of dplay, its real life entertainment streaming service. With lifestyle brands, including the UK’s biggest free-to-air channel Quest, its UKTV deal earlier this year gave it control of Really, The Food Network and Home, which is being rebranded HGTV.

Multichannel commissioning spend in the UK over ten years had doubled to £321m in 2018, according to the Pact census. It represents a growing slice of the £1.9 billion of domestic TV production sector revenues.


While growth is coming from elsewhere, the PSBs are still in control of the lion’s share of original factual commissions in the UK. 


ITV is going through something of a purple patch with factual, having had hits with Breaking Dad, The Real Full Monty, Harry’s Heroes and Island Prison. Meanwhile, Channel 5, after six years of going big on factual, is “coming of age” with its factual content, according to commissioning editor Guy Davies. The channel has increased originated content from 85 ideas in 2017 to 115 in 2018. At the BBC, controller of BBC Two Patrick Holland, has been at the helm during a fast-changing three years in the broadcast world. He has led the way to define BBC Two’s spirit and tone, anchoring its place in a multichannel environment. 


 But in 2019 the terrestrial with the biggest story has to be Channel 4. Kelly Webb-Lamb, the broadcaster’s deputy director of programmes, will be bringing delegates to the Factual Festival up to speed with all the changes. She has been at the heart of the biggest structural change in the channel’s history. Roughly a third of all its staff will soon be located outside of London, with a focus on its recently opened Leeds HQ. There’s been an influx of new commissioners and a significant budget ring-fenced for regional productions. 



At the same time, Webb-Lamb has worked with C4 director of programmes, Ian Katz to reinvigorate the broadcaster’s programming slate, since his appointment two years ago, with his deputy keeping an especially keen eye on her area of special expertise, factual entertainment. 


This year has seen the BBC up the ante for big factual entertainment ideas and the Festival is taking a deep dive into one of its newest flagship shows, Race Across the World, looking at the evolution of the series, from idea and through the nurturing of format powerhouse Studio Lambert alongside the BBC.


These shows with ambition and scale are important to get bums on sofas, but they are part of an ecosystem where PSB budgets are gradually declining and the need for imaginative approaches to finance will become increasingly important. Festival speakers from digital broadcasters, to production companies and distributors will be looking at alternative business models and reassessing the landscape of TV investment.


The 15th Televisual Factual Festival takes place on November 27th and 28th at London’s Curzon Soho. More details at

Posted 08 November 2019 by Pippa Considine

The factual commissioners at Sheffield Docfest

As ever, the Sheffield DocFest commissioning sessions were rammed, with an audience keen to find out the latest twists and turns of the commissioning wheel. Pippa Considine runs through some of the highlights

The message from UKTV was that producers can expect the same continuing levels of investment, with the broadcaster commissioning originals for the seven entertainment channels that remain under BBC ownership.
“We would urge all of you to think who are the women and men in our sweet spot - between 30 and 40. Who would you stop at when you flick through a tabloid paper?” said Hilary Rosen, deputy director of commissioning. Stacey Dooley is “off the leash, a bit more herself” in her new UKTV series. Actress and reality star Emily Atack has her own series on the channel, having been petitioned by the producers as soon as she stepped of the plane returning from I’m a Celebrity. UKTV factual shows work well in the documentary space, but with a fact ent tone. Always looking for returners, always looking for shows that can play at primetime.

Speaking on the Fact Ent commissioning panel head of popular factual and fact ent at the BBC David Brindley held up Studio Lambert’s Race Across the World as one of its latest jewels in the crown. He said that BBC2 doesn’t have enough poppy doc series like Back in Time. “It’s important to have something to say, but wearing it lightly. The quality we want above all is actually humour and it’s the thing we get least of.” Brindley is inspired by the second series of Netflix’s Queer Eye. “It’s evolved so that you laugh and cry and feel uplifted. If we could bottle that, we’d be keen to do something similar.” On the subject of volume and finding enough money for the bigger ideas, he says, “it’s a moment for us to be thinking about doing fewer and bigger things and asking indies to think about finding funding.” Amongst other things, he’s looking at what a three parter might look like at 8pm on BBC One or a 12-parter two nights a week. No food and no flower arranging ideas please.
Head of documentary commissioning Clare Sillery is recommissioning Forensics: The Real CSI on BBC Two. “It’s got a driving crime narrative and I think one of the things we might have been missing in our access docs - more layers of content.” Sillery also highlighted BBC3 six-parter Hometown: A Killing from 7 Wonder. Fronted by new talent in the shape of journalist Mobeen Azhar, it’s a personal take, with a real podcast feel.
Newly appointed BBC head of TV commissioning for England Aisling O’Connor is planning to grow content for daytime, BBC3 and BBC 4. She’s keen to expand a new, exciting, edgy, diverse and local slate of content, including more short form programming. “I’m quite tired of poverty porn programming. There’s lots to celebrate in England,” she says.

Channel 4
The words “extreme,” “gritty” and “madness” were peppered through the commissioning sessions by Channel 4 heads.
Karl Warner, channel head at E4 is working with the docs commissioning team to find entertaining docs. “Reference Valley Cops on BBC 3,” says head of factual Danny Horan. “They need to be incredibly young skewed.”
More generally in docs, Horan points to Criminal Justice and the return of Prison, focusing on the inside of a women’s prison, as showing the channel’s direction of travel. “We want to reflect the complicated world that Channel 4 had done a bit less of,” he says. A new Jade Goody film has got him thinking about the zeitgeist ten years ago. “There’s a kind of wildness that we’ve lost.” Jade: As Seen on TV uses the immersive quality of archive to connect with the audience. Marking ten years since the reality TV star’s death, the show also demonstrates the channel’s intention to do more contemporary history.
Fatima Salaria, head of specialist factual, also talked about building on murder and crime and pointed to a show produced by a blue-chip indie, together with ex cons as an “innovative collaboration that brings a different voice.” She also wants to see more women in travelogues and adventure formats. Channel 4’s new specialist factual commissioner Nicola Brown is looking to reclaim the Saturday and Sunday 8pm slots for the genre. On Sunday, this is male skewing. Wanting to reflect the madness of the time, the channel is open for reinvention, live events, stunts, social experiments.
Meanwhile Alf Lawrie, head of factual entertainment at Channel 4 declared that he was looking for extreme ideas. Defending a second series of The Circle, he said, “I can understand why some people in this room didn’t enjoy it… We’re changing it and trying to bring it back bigger and better …But it will have to do better to come back again a third time.”

Channel 5 
After six years of going big on factual, Channel 5 is “coming of age” with its factual content, says factual commissioning editor Guy Davies. The channel has increased originated content from 85 ideas in 2017 to 115 in 2018 and increased output in the regions by 40 per cent. In fact ent, it’s looking to increase male skewing output and moving into lifestyle change, wanting to try out new territories to play alongside its growing drama slate. Fact ent commissioner Greg Barnett says that the channel has four or five pilots on the go, two of which will go to series. Right now, it’s taking its first foray into gardening with Crackit’s six parter The Great Garden Challenge, co-presented by Carol Klein. The channel is not after any more ideas involving trains or police at the moment, and probably no more medical, says Barnett.
Talking about the channel’s impactful 90-minute docs, the latest of which tackles male suicide, Greg Davies says he’s keen to pair such issue-based single features with a follow-up half-hour that offers solutions.
In specialist factual, commissioning editor Lucy Willis is looking for new spins on blockbuster historical periods. One new treatment is a mash-up between a listing format and history; another is a single comparing Donald Trump with Henry VIII.

ITV is going through something of a purple patch with factual. Breaking Dad, The Real Full Monty, Harry’s Heroes and Island Prison all go the thumbs up from commissioners on other channels.
Sticking to its penchant for prisons, upcoming series Island Prison is a serious doc, but with shades of Love Island. “It’s hard to make documentaries with humour and real purpose, but this is prison as you’ve never seen it before,” says controller of Factual Jo Clinton-Davis. Commissioning editor for factual entertainment Nicola Lloyd is looking for ideas to play at 8:30 - “talent-led half hour doc series.” Hits in this space have included Paul O’Grady For the Love of Dogs and privileged access, such as Inside the Ritz Hotel or Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport. “Classic territories with a twist,” says Lloyd. “I always say to think of the poster for any idea. Gordon, Gino and Fred was three faces in a camper van – three big egos in one small van.”
Talent, as ever, is central to the channel. Bradley Walsh comes out number one in the channel’s talent tracker, so it’s no surprise that his series Breaking Dad has gone down a storm with viewers.  But it’s not just about sticking talent on a show. Finding talent combos is one way forward. “We really appreciate it when people genuinely spend time thinking about what those combinations of talent could be,” says Lloyd.

Posted 21 June 2019 by Pippa Considine

A look inside WB De Lane Lea's new Soho home

Warner Bros De Lane Lea has recently completed the initial phase of its upgrade, adding state of the art picture post capabilities to its Soho facility. We take a 
look inside

Warner Bros De Lane Lea (WBDLL) has completed the first phase of its state of the art upgrade, introducing a top-end picture post service to its Soho-based facility, together with ongoing investment in its audio facilities.

The next phase will see the move to a new 25,000 square foot, purpose-built post production facility in Greek Street in 2021.

As one of the three Dolby Atmos accredited feature film audio post houses in the UK, WBDLL’s addition of the picture service will enhance its offer for its existing core of predominantly feature film and drama clients. The first major picture post customer is a flagship Lionsgate episodic drama for delivery in early 2019.

Starting with a blank sheet of paper, the WBDLL team has designed and built a new digital intermediate infrastructure. The new high-end picture production services include three customer attend suites with two mirrored 4K HDR Baselight X grading suites alongside an online Flame suite, supported by three Baselight One assists with mastering and content handling services. The infrastructure extends to dark fibre connectivity between Soho and both Dolby UK and Leavesden Studios and a fully serviced production dailies service.

Leading the project is Cara Sheppard, the managing director of Warner Bros De Lane Lea with a vision to expand the offer. She joined the facility at the start 
of 2017 from Sky where she was senior manager of post operations (and previously head of post production at Goldcrest).

One of the big drivers is to meet the increased demand for complex, high quality post-production, driven by the increase in big budget, multi-episodic drama being shot in the UK and the continuing growth in demand for feature film picture and audio post in the UK. There are also the tangible workflow benefits for WBDLL’s clients to having both within the same post house.  “It was a very natural evolution. We needed to be able to offer our clients more services,” says Sheppard. “With episodic drama, you’re not delivering traditional TV, you’re delivering 10 features. You need to be mixing and editing all at the same time, and having that as part of a digital ecosystem means you are able to offer as much or little as a production wants.”

The focus has been on providing a service and workflow that supports the whole production process from on-set through to mastering. “It’s not just about offering clients the shiny toys,” adds Sheppard. “It’s about offering the best service, efficiently, and supporting each project throughout the pipeline and not just at the end.”

Although its Hollywood studio ownership might suggest the facility is primarily intended for Warner Bros productions in the UK, third party work is critical to the business. The amount of Warner Bros work fluctuates significantly in 2017, just 20 per cent of WBDLL’s work was for the parent company. WBDLL has, over the last few months, worked on Aardman’s Early Man, Netflix features Outlaw King and Mowgli, as well as Netflix original series Marcella and The Alienist. It is currently executing the full sound mix and edit for Sean the Sheep 2 and the audio for a Starz drama, a Fox Searchlight production and a major Disney project.

Warner Bros has consistently invested in both its UK studio facility at Leavesden and its Soho sound studios. Warner Bros first entered the UK facilities market in 2010 with the purchase of the studios at Leavesden, having based its Harry Potter films at the facility. Since then it has steadily expanded at the Leavesden location and six years ago took over leading Soho sound studio De Lane Lea.

To lead the new pictures charge, WBDLL has brought in top industry talent in the shape of respected colourist Asa Shoul, online editor Gareth Parry and senior post producer Louise Stewart. Their signings are part of a recruitment drive that sees a staff of around 27 increasing to 45 in WBDLL’s Dean Street premises. The appointments were part of a wider Soho merry-go-round of senior post staff in step with the ever-increasing demand for high-end drama and film post. Alongside the new WBDLL creative talent, there are new engineers, mastering and support staff.

Asa Shoul’s recent credits include Mission Impossible: Fallout and Netflix The Crown, for which he won a Bafta for Special, Visual & Graphic Effects and an HPA award for Outstanding Grading in 2017. “It’s really exciting to put a team together with the latest equipment and linking with film dailies,” says Shoul. The pictures team have been an integral part of the planning for the picture post operation, with meetings each week to focus on the new set-up.

Parry has worked across a range of online and FX roles, including Widows, Tomb Raider, Virunga and The Crown.  At WBDLL, he says, “we discuss everything from dark fibre to barcode scanners. Having a blank slate means there are no shortcuts, but also none of the restrictions caused by pre-existing infrastructure or workflows. We’re carefully considering every part of the system together.”

Operations manager Mike King has been leading the technical specification for the bespoke infrastructure, working closely with suppliers and manufacturers and with advice from its Warner Bros Studios cousins in Burbank, California. It has been a detailed brief, from high-end kit to getting the right desks.

The furniture in all the upgraded rooms, including the integrated workstations and discreetly matching secondary desks, has been designed with long-standing WBDLL partner AKA Design. “I need someone who will listen and understand what we’re trying to achieve,” says King. “I do a design and give specifications to them and they draw it up until it’s right. It’s not only functional, but it’s an aesthetic. It’s a truly collaborative process.”

FilmLight technology is at the core of the picture workflow. There are two new Baselight BLX grading and finishing systems for each of the customer attended grading suites, together with 4K Christie projectors. There’s also new Dolby Vision CMU Hardware, with Dolby Vision licenses. There are three colour assist stations: two Baselight Ones and one Baselight Assist all with 56TB.

King and his team have been working closely with FilmLight on the cache workflow to allow for the heavy lifting demands of multiple film and drama deliverables (for Netflix, for example) and different productions on the system. Each of the Baselight BLXs in the suites has 160TB of FilmLight Flux Store storage and a Blackboard 2 panel.

There are already plans to roll out an initial installation of the FilmLight Daylight solution, from one to three systems for the start of 2019.

Modern feature film and episodic drama picture post demands an exponentially larger, post-specific storage platform than WBDLL’s audio post has ever required. A ten-part Netflix HDR series can require anything up to 300TB in deliverables alone, while the demands of working with ever larger 16bit linear files have required significant investment in storage across upstream Soho post houses over the past year or two.

WBDLL’s scalable storage solution was created with Pixit Media who offered an agnostic tailored solution based on Network Attached Storage with plenty of NetApp storage hardware. “We looked at different technologies and Pixit had a forward way of thinking that was closer to our vision than anyone else,” explains King. “They provided a level of intelligence in interaction and support and customisation. We wanted the facility to run with a lot of intelligent automation and well-optimised workflows and tools to do that, to leverage FilmLight technology and tap into their APIs.”

Jigsaw24 worked with King over a number of months to specify the ancillary kit and support networks necessary, providing the architecture and system integration. For mastering and Data IO, reliable IMF and DCP generation Jigsaw installed a Rohde & Schwarz Clipster, as well as the hardware underneath the Colorfront Transkoder and Interra’s Baton QC solution. Jigsaw also installed the latest version of Autodesk Flame for the online suites and Leader HDR scopes for both the grading suites, alongside new Eizo CG319X 4K HDR reference monitors to match up with the new Sony BVM-X300s in the main grading suites.

Jigsaw24 and King developed an up-to-the-minute post infrastructure. It includes details like the Amulet hot key for KVM (virtualisation) over IP, with private key encryption for additional flexibility and security, allowing server access to any workstation from anywhere in the building and even from Leavesden. Similarly the addition of Mellanox technology creates a 100GB data super highway across the facility.

The connectivity with Leavesden and the new dailies service allows the team to review footage as it’s created.  “It gives us the ability to view anytime and anywhere and not be restricted by the talent, technology or location,” says Sheppard. With productions increasingly demanding review facilities and crew working on more than one production at a time, this adds flexibility and accessibility.  “We can see the dailies and straight away be asking any questions,” says Asa Shoul.  “It’s so exciting to be able to look and make decisions all through the production, retouching as you go.

 “We are working more and more pre- and during production and not just on the final grade. We get involved at the script stage with the lens choice and make up tests, working towards making things more beautiful and avoiding problems.”

The facility is keen to underscore that despite the high-end kit, they are open to all-comers, from tent pole movies, to independent films, commercials, pop promos and TV. Shoul is happy to embrace the variety. “I love working on indies and on multi-format you get huge trust from the executives. But I can bring new looks to the bigger movies and it’s an opportunity to be working with some big studio productions.”

Acclaimed sound mixer Adrian Rhodes who returned to the company in 2017 after seven years is square behind the combined service. “It’s always been a bugbear… Everyone wants a one-stop-shop these days, it makes workflow much easier. Queries can be answered without delays in communication or files moving across. You can have your online picture on screen immediately.“

The WBDLL Dean Street operation has three hero audio suites, sitting alongside its ADR and Soho’s biggest dubbing theatre. Rhodes describes the facility’s overhauled Stage Two theatre with Dolby’s Atmos Home Entertainment licenses and new Atmos HE monitoring, with multiple speakers, and new plug-in software. The mixing desks are now S6s in both Theatre Two and Theatre One, which is for theatrical Atmos.

The next major phase in development will be in 2021 when WBDLL moves into new purpose-built Soho premises in Ilona Rose House in Greek Street. The new location will include four sound re-recording stages, one of which is on a scale to rival similar Hollywood operations. Additional facilities will include colour grading suites for feature films and TV, 40 picture cutting rooms and an ADR stage all complemented by client lounges and a cafe/bar.

WBDLL is committed to staying in Soho. “It’s incredibly important to the business, Soho is still the heart of the entertainment business and always has been,” says Sheppard. “It’s a very expensive place to be, but it’s where our clients want to be. You’ve got directors, producers, talent staying at the Soho Hotel or the Ham Yard Hotel and they have everything within walking distance. For us this was the right decision.”

Posted 13 December 2018 by Pippa Considine

Behind the scenes of The Informer with director Jonny Campbell

Informer director Jonny Campbell tells Pippa Considine about 
the challenges of helming all six episodes of the BBC1 thriller

Despite being twice as long as anything he’d directed before, Jonny Campbell directed all six, hour-long episodes of Neal Street drama Informer. “It was ambitious, a bit like a snake digesting a buffalo, but the nature of the story lent itself to one person telling it.”

Informer is a complex, character-led thriller. The story centres on Raza, a young, second generation British-Pakistani man from East London who is coerced into becoming a counter-terrorist informant.

Campbell’s directing credits include TV mini-series The Last Post and zombie drama In the Flesh, as well as episodes for Doctor Who and Westworld. For Informer, he wanted a naturalistic approach, avoiding clichés of the thriller genre. “It’s an antidote of sorts to the flagship, glamorous Homeland-style ‘War on Terror’ TV show.”

The production took 90 days to shoot, beginning in October 2017 and finishing mid February, with post continuing into October 2018. Editors Fiona Colbeck and Gareth C Scales worked across the whole piece. “It danced all over the place, there’s a lot of osmosis between episodes. We were always adding colour and layers to make it a fuller picture.”

Three of the episodes were unfinished when the shoot started. Writers Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani were based in LA, so there were midnight Facetime sessions looking over the rushes, with an evolving script.

The massive cast included 70 extras drawn from the community around the key locations. Raza, played by Nabhaan Rizwan, had no TV experience, so Campbell took him on a pre-shoot. “We threw him in at the deep end and he grew with the show.”

Campbell sees the recce as critical. “You find locations which become pillars of the production and you almost feel that you can’t live without them.” Watney Market was one pillar. “We walked through Watney market in Shadwell and it was just so full of life, so colourful, so warm and we felt that Raza lived there.” The estate where Raza is sent was filmed in various locations, including the Thamesmead and Silverlock Estates.

“We went into this knowing that London was a big character.”  With his approach to the cityscape in the series, Campbell references Get Carter and its relationship to Newcastle, “The way the landscape infected and infused the story telling was something I was drawn to because of what we were trying to do with East London…Whenever you see a character, there’s always something in the frame which is giving you something of the landscape.”

Alongside production designer Sami Khan’s meticulous planning for the sets, Campbell created his own mood board for each of the six episodes: a mix of film references, photographs, recce pictures and actors’ faces. “From my point of view it was a six hour film, but I wanted to make sure that each episode had its own flavour, its own characteristics. We wanted to see Raza as if in a pinball machine; being bounced from dangerous situations to awkward personal or domestic ones – with an erratic pace to match.”

Each episode starts with a different perspective on a shooting in a café and then a scene in court. Shot planning for these opening scenes was storyboarded; for the rest of the shoot, Campbell favoured a shot wish-list, with room for manoeuvre. “You’ve got to allow a bit of freedom for the actors to inhabit the space.”

This is the seventh project where DoP Slater Ling and Campbell have worked together. “It’s almost a telepathic way of communicating now. We’re drawn to strong flavoured material that’s going to be provocative and also a challenge as film makers to create.”

Shooting in winter, entirely on location, required agile lighting. For Raza’s flat, located in busy Watney Market, a cherry picker was brought in. Every day they looked at a collage of stills, put together by DIT Oliver Pillon, alongside the rushes. The final look was largely captured in camera, “using some lovely vintage glass here and there,” and graded by Sonny Sheridan at The Farm. “The rushes ended up being very close to how it graded.”

In the same vein, Campbell credits production sound mixer Simon Bysshe with capturing almost all sound on location, with minimal need for ADR.
The idea behind the music, composed by Ilan Eshkeri, was to have a classical score with a timeless feel “not your typical thriller electronic score.” Music supervisor Iain Cooke pulled together incidental music with input from cast member and DJ Mim Shaikh.

With every element of the series, Campbell orchestrated a collaborative approach. “I don’t like directing when it’s obvious that there’s a director behind the camera, I like it when you dissolve into the piece itself.”

Informer is a six-part thriller following a young British Pakistani man who is coerced into becoming an informant by Gabe, a counter terrorism officer who has secrets in his past. Set in East London, the screenplay tells the story about identity in a world where lines are increasingly being drawn and sides are being taken. 

Broadcasters BBC, Amazon
Key cast Nabhaan Rizwan, Paddy Considine, Bel Powley
Production company Neal Street
Director Jonny Campbell
Executive producers Sam Mendes, Nicholas Brown, Julie Pastor
Line producer Louisa Rawlins
Producer Julian Stevens
Writers Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
DoP Tony Slater Ling
Casting Julie Harkin
Production Design Sami Khan
Music Ilan Eshkeri
Editors Fiona Colbeck, Gareth C. Scales
Camera Alexa Mini
Post The Farm

Posted 29 November 2018 by Pippa Considine

What the specialist factual commissioners want

Pippa Considine reports on the programming needs of the specialist factual commissioners from the recent Sheffield Doc Fest

Chaired by Kim Shilllinglaw, director of Factual at Endemol Shine, the specialist factual panel at Sheffield delivered plenty of heads up for producers.

Discovery and Nat Geo talked differences. Ed Sayer, head of original commissioning for Discovery showed a clip from its latest Ed Stafford format, First Man Out where Ed catches a mammal in a trap baited with his own vomit. “We wouldn’t do vomit in trap” said Mykura, who underscored Nat Geo’s shift over last three years to make its TV in line with the magazine and its “yellow border”. This includes featuring Nat Geo’s own roster of explorers on the screen.

Discovery has also backed Salvage Hunters The Restorers. Sayers admitted that the format feels risky because it’s very slow TV, but it gives space to reveal the history behind each object.

C4 specialist factual commissioner Shaminder Nahal said:  “immersive is what we absolutely want. Narcos with Jason Fox in Columbia feels incredibly in the thick of it. …Showing people places that they haven’t been seen before in a way that hasn’t been done before is still exciting for us and immersive is what we expect.”

Nahal also underlined the interest in recent history. “It’s possible to revisit things in recent history. The Tony Martin murder story tells you about modern Britain. It’s dramatic, plays with form and story-telling, but also has huge resonance.”

Tom McDonald, the BBC’s head of specialist factual and natural history conceded that BBC 2 competition format Astronauts hadn’t been pitched quite right. “That level of construction got in the way of the content for the BBC 2 audience, while for younger viewers it wasn’t constructed enough.”

This autumn BBC2 has commissioned Voltage for The Wonderful World of Babies with new science and digital potential. “It delivers in a way that feels broad and entertaining but is going to different place,” says McDonald. Also, with robust material, they can risk new presenting talent with paediatrician Guddi Singh. “We have a premium now on people who not just know their stuff but have something different.”

Tom McDonald broke with tradition and poured praise on a rival channel: “Channel 5 specialist factual is really bloody brilliant. Sometimes we commission for each other I don’t think we spend enough time in specialist factual thinking about the pleasure for the audience.”

Lucy Willis at Channel 5 took the compliment and said that the channel is looking for shows that can be stripped for an appointment to view, but has to be a really compelling aspect. Pompeii’s Final Hours ran across three nights with three presenters appealing to different elements of the audience and  with ticking clock device to keep momentum. At the time of DocFest she said that they were looking at a new show Nocturnal Britain to decide if it had potential for similar stripping treatment.

Willis conceded that the 8-parters they had aired recently were “difficult.” Last year saw Eight Days that Made Rome and Elizabeth Our Queen. “It’s a long time to get the audience to commit.” They are now on the look out for more 3/4/6 parters.

Willis also said that she’d had two big ideas with reality /competition in them which didn’t make it through to commission. “But if you get it right it can be a good way to attract a broader audience.”

What do the specialist factual commissioners watch in down time?
Lucy Willis, Channel 5:  BBC drama A Very English Scandal
Tom McDonald, BBC: Channel 5’s Cruising with Jane McDonald and The Bridge
Hamish Mykura, National Geographic: HBO four-parter The Defiant Ones, Sky’s Patrick Melrose, History ‘s competition series Forged in Fire
Ed Sayer, Discovery : Amazon and Netflix, including an All Blacks documentary

The Televisual's own Televisual Factual Festival will take place at Bafta once again this year on 21st and 22nd November. Details soon on

Posted 02 July 2018 by Pippa Considine

10 highlights from the Sheffield Doc Fest sessions

Pippa Considine runs through the standout moments from the recent Sheffield Documentary Festival

1 Alastair Campbell on his new BBC documentary, Depression and Me, was in conversation with the film’s director Peter Gauvain, “I didn’t want to see you talking about it,” said Gauvain. “I wanted to see you living it, to see Alastair Campbell’s depression for ourselves rather than talking about it.”
Recorded over 18 months, Campbell described it as a process of ‘attrition’: “I had a love hate relationship with the TV process, it was quite difficult, balls-aching.” The self-filming produced highlights of Campbell contemplating life in his bath and a moment of clarity at three o’clock in the morning.

2 In a packed session on the future for short form, delegates heard from  commissioners at BBC3, Little Dot’s Real Stories and the New York Times Op Docs. “More and more will be consumed online and short form is good for bite-sized viewing,” said Lindsay Crouse from the NYT, who predicts that viewers will increasingly be wanting to fill shorter spaces of time with great content, including journeys in self-driven cars. “The time for consuming this content is only going to get bigger.”

3 On the subject of how to gain instant impact for a short film ,The Future of Documentary Shorts panel split hairs between the need to grab attention in the first minute, the first five seconds, or the thumbnail photo and title.

4 During the Fact Ent  Comissioning session,  BBC, head of popular factual and factual entertainment commissioning David Brindley admitted that they’ve got a lot of food at the moment. What they want is more real world constructive docs, pop docs at 8pm on BBC One and BBC Two to grow and build.

5 Talking talent, Channel 4 is backing comedian Joe Lycett as the next big new talent, now fronting quirky consumer series Got Your Back.  The BBC is looking for experts, who can also offer something a bit different. While ITV cites talent from its Real Full Monty  - Ashley Banjo and Alexander Armstrong, Coleen Nolan and Victoria Derbyshire – not forgetting elsewhere in its schedule, the Queen and David Attenborough.

6 With the SVODS now dominating non-linear viewing, live and event programming is even more in demand from the terrestrials. At Channel 4, deputy director of programmes Kelly Webb-Lamb said that they want to do more live, “which we can do as a terrestrial channel in different scheduling, using digital platforms.” While Channel 5 is keen to find ideas that can sustain stripped 3-day event scheduling.

7 As well as the big 9pm returnables, ITV is also after formatted docs with a huge heart. “If you can make Kevin Lygo laugh then you’ve got the ink on the paper” said Kate Teckman, factual commissioner at ITV.

8 At the Sheffield/ Channel 4 First Cut pitch we saw diversity in action, with four finalists out of five being women. The standard of the films was impressive, with the winner Lyttanya Shannon getting great access to a story of domestic violence.

9 While much factual content is now shot through with drama and tension, might we have a bit of pulse-racing overkill? Tom McDonald, head of specialist factual commissioning  at the BBC said: “I find the trope of adrenalized, right on the edge, will they survive has begun to feel a bit tired and the audience is saying what else have you got ?”

10 UKTV  hosted a packed session. With a third more original commissions pledged for 2018 v 2017, they showed a real breadth of demand, from obdocs like Inside the Vets from Brown Bob Productions to fact ent formats like Judge Romesh bringing a comic spin to real-life disputes from Hungry Bear Media.

The Televisual's own Televisual Factual Festival will take place at Bafta once again this year on 21st and 22nd November. Details soon on

Posted 02 July 2018 by Pippa Considine

Top speakers line up for Televisual Factual Festival

Hot on the heels of Mipcom, this year’s Factual Festival looks at How To Grow Your Business Overseas, in a session chaired by managing director of Sky Vision Jane Millichip.


To find out more and to book tickets, go to


The session takes place on Tuesday 14th November at BAFTA, on the first day of the two-day event. David Flynn, co-founder of Youngest Media and recently-appointed by PACT as an industry export ambassador, will explain how and why he has launched an indie as a global company from day one. Roy Ackerman, director of International Strategy for Zinc Media and md, Films of Record, reveals how he plans to accelerate Zinc’s business in the US and the wider global market. While Nutopia chief operating officer Helena Tait will talk about how Nutopia has nearly doubled turnover to £21.7m following a slew of big commissions from international broadcasters.


As part of a programme packed full of inspirational and informative sessions, the top TV commissioners in Specialist Factual, Documentary and Factual Entertainment will be speaking at the Festival, giving up to the minute insight into their present and future slates and to look at how successful commissions on their channel have made the journey from inbox to the screen.


Among the many highlights, Facebook’s Glenn Miller, head of entertainment media partnerships, EMEA will talk about reaching a new generation of viewers and the thinking behind its new TV service Facebook Watch. He is joined by Kat Hebden, head of digital, Fremantle Media UK, who will be addressing significant changes to the language of TV and how factual producers can use social media, together with Vice UK digital programming executive Eloise King and Derren Lawford, creative director, Woodcut Media.


The BBC’s controller of Factual Commissioning Alison Kirkham will discuss the future of factual at the broadcaster with Julian Bellamy, md of ITV Studios. 


Tuesday morning is a chance to flex development muscles, with a Development Masterclass hearing from four of the best in the business, following a conversation between Studio Lambert ceo Stephen Lambert and presenter and producer Anna Richardson about creating world-beating formats, as Studio Lambert approaches its tenth anniversary.


World-renowned producer John Battsek will talk about Creating Compelling Stories in documentary, using dramatic technique. He will be on stage with 24 Hours in Custody mastermind Simon Ford, in a session chaired by Kudos chief executive Diederick Santer.


Top names in factual will debate how producers should handle the power that they hold in their hands, in an age of fake news and viral video, in a session chaired by author and broadcaster Grace Dent, the creator of Radio 4’s The Untold. Dorothy Byrne, head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4 and young film-maker Rachel Lob-Levyt are joined by Alastair Fothergill, md of Silverback Films and Will Anderson, creative director, Keo Film, both with major upcoming campaigning films, for Netflix and the BBC



This year is also the first time at the Festival that delegates will hear from the heads of Daytime commissioning, at the BBC and Channel 4. Dan McGolpin and David Sayer will be talking about what they look for in shows that play well for them in daytime and early-peak.


Plus there are sessions on VR, AR and AI, and how to adapt to a new generation of TV watching. Creative Europe will present its funding opportunities.


There will also be the opportunity to book one-to-one meetings with commissioners. Broadcasters already confirmed to be part of the Festival include the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, UKTV, ITV, Discovery, A+E and National Geographic.


To find out more and to book tickets, go to


Posted 20 October 2017 by Pippa Considine

Documentaries confront dramatic times

The era of Trump and Brexit is proving a fertile one for documentary makers to explore. Televisual Factual Festival producer Pippa Considine surveys the fast-changing documentary landscape

In a year of seismic political change, documentaries that seize the moment and 
show it with a raw drama have been capturing the zeitgeist. “People want the urgent thing, the social thing, the thing that makes my channel contemporary. It’s an exciting moment to be working in factual,” says Aysha Rafaele, head of documentaries at the newly-commercialised BBC Studios.

“There’s never been a better time to be a documentary film maker, in a world where we need to make sense of the world more than ever before,“ says Clare Sillery, the head of documentary commissioning at the BBC.

Nick Mirsky, head of documentaries at Channel 4, clarifies that he’s not looking for lots of documentaries on Corbyn, Trump or Brexit. “But they all feel like an expression of people saying we don’t believe what we’re told any more, a sense of disenchantment with the establishment, and somehow in a doc that’s the world we would like to see explored.”

There have been some shifts in the world of UK documentary commissioning recently, with the BBC refreshing its team and Channel 5 commissioning more in the documentary territory. Now, with the arrival of Alex Mahon as ceo at Channel 4 and the departure of chief creative officer Jay Hunt, another shake up is on the cards.

Competition between indies is getting tougher. This year has seen the launch of several new factual indies and BBC Studios has taken its place as a supplier to all channels. In the past few months it has been branching out, pitching to other UK terrestrial channels, as well as talking to US and international broadcasters, including Netflix and National Geographic.

Finding business growth by extending overseas has continued to be a successful strategy for indies; Nutopia, with one foot in the US has significantly increased its turnover with overseas business. But companies are finding it hard to build a concrete base with commissions where the IP is given away and while precious UK business is reportedly flat, with the familiar downward pressure on budgets.

Mirsky at Channel 4 thinks that there’s a polarisation of the sorts of films that are working for documentary at the moment: “I feel there are two directions we’ve been going in – the films that have been successful have either been really escapist or confronting the moment.” He cites First Dates and 24 Hours in Custody at opposite ends of this spectrum – both have been getting record viewing figures. The channel’s new stand-out films – A Very British Hotel and Catching a Killer – are also poles apart.

While Catching a Killer, 24 Hours in Custody or the BBC’s new fast-paced Hospital are undoubtedly confronting difficult issues, none of them is difficult to watch. Each of them uses the beats that traditionally belong in drama. “There’s something about when a doc gets close to drama, there’s also an element of allowing yourself to be lost,” says Mirsky. “Catching a Killer is one of the most powerful films about domestic violence, you are gripped by the narrative and that takes you in and makes you think about domestic violence.”

Giving a doc a dramatic arc is not new, but there’s a more widespread imperative to have a story engine that goes to the eye of the story. Custody has consolidated its multiple story arcs into one powerful narrative in the more recent films. Boundless’ new BBC2 format, The Week The Landlords Moved In, focuses more intensely on the human dramas of the cast. When the drama works well, it attracts audiences of all ages. “It’s really interesting with something like Ambulance there’s a younger skew,” says Sillery. “The top line is that the drama can deliver the audience to important social issues.”

Big docs that go into forensic detail on one subject are in demand, with commissioners emboldened by the traction of shows like OJ: Made in America or Making a Murderer. The third series of BBC3’s Life and Death Row tackles one story of 98 executions in Arkansas scheduled over an intense 10 day period before the licence to use a lethal drug expires.

True crime has been burgeoning, with commissioners accused of turning from poverty porn to crime porn.  ITV has publicly pinned some of its hopes on true crime. Its much–anticipated Undercover Prisoner series is in production and a Crime and Punishment strand will launch later this year. The strand has ten films commissioned, including An Hour To Catch A Killer from ITV Studios production company Potato, announced last year.

“We know there’s an appetite for crime and punishment,” says ITV director of factual Jo Clinton-Davis. ”So we’re pulling together different films that straddle that area, making people think about issues around crime and punishment, but also making big films about a range of subjects in that territory. It’s a way of making a splash.” Plus, Potato’s film suggests a natural format for future iterations, with its focus on the critical ‘Golden Hour‘ that police believe is vital to solving a murder.

ITV is also interested in performance-based factual. The Real Full Monty was a hit for the channel, with overnight ratings of over 5m. The celebrity format, which involved dancing and stripping off, also explored the issue of testicular cancer. Says Clinton-Davis: “They literally unpeeled, undressed the issues alongside the actual strip: that’s documentary in a more entertaining framework.” Next up is Gone to Pot, a three-parter from Betty, where another group of celebrities will travel to the US to investigate the pros and cons of using cannabis for medicinal purposes.

At the BBC, Sillery points to the success of Marigold Hotel when saying that there’s room for more lightly formatted factual and documentaries generally. She admits respect and perhaps a little envy of Channel 4’s First Dates. “We do gloom very well in docs and it would be nice to get some lighter touch stories,” she says.

Whether it’s entertainment, drama or scheduling big events in the schedule, what’s become official is that noise and impact are crucial ingredients if a documentary is going to cut through.

Sanjay Singhal, chief executive at Voltage TV, which has grown rapidly in the three years since it launched, says that the indie’s strategy has been to pitch big ideas. “My feeling is that across the industry and across genres, people are looking for fewer, bigger, better programmes that have noise, impact and scale. That applies as much to single films as series.”

Singhal is keen not to box factual shows into silos, pointing to Hunted as a good example of a show that has become more of a game show, but still retains documentary sensibility. “There’s nothing wrong with taking the beats of an entertainment show and filling it with authenticity and purpose.”

Voltage is producing BBC2’s Great Family Cookery Showdown, it has an ambitious fact ent show in development with Sky and another funded development with Amazon. “The thing that we’ve tried to do is focus on those ideas that we feel have real scale and potential punch at the expense of trying to go for programmes that are relatively easy to miss and therefore channels don’t get excited about them.”

This scale includes strong feature doc ideas which can play as events in the schedule. Voltage was behind feature doc One Deadly Weekend in America for BBC3 and another feature length science doc with Ant & Dec is in production for ITV. And there’s definite demand for longer form. Nutopia, with its eye on both UK and international markets, is bringing feature doc producer Roast Beef into its fold.

At ITV, Clinton-Davis says that she is not sure that Netflix and the other SVoDs are behind a greater demand in features, but big ideas and one-offs with scale can work: The Real Full Monty was 90-minutes and recent Oxford Film & TV production Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy netted 7m viewers. C5 is increasing its demand for feature-length films to run at 9pm, following success with Brinkworth Films’ The Accused.

BBC3 has found that running features as a strand is one way to stop the ebb of viewers since the channel moved online. At BBC Studios, Aysha Rafaele says the Murdered by... strand of fact-based dramas helps to bring in the audience through its title. “It’s a way of identifying in an online landscape when you’re trying to make young people aware of your programmes.” BBC3 has struggled with certain shows, without the support of a terrestrial platform. Clare Sillery says that despite its strengths, a show such as American High School just couldn’t get enough traction: “It was too docusoapy to cut through, it needs to be more pointy.”

The established channels are mindful of the loyal older audiences that they must serve. One approach that Sillery likes is to give audiences an insight into the world view for young people, especially with the backdrop of recent political decisions, where the youth vote lost the day. There are two BBC commissions in this vein: David Glover’s 72 Films is making Redcar, a film about growing up in the North Yorkshire town; Blast! Films’ Gifted explores the issues facing children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  “One of the things behind Gifted and Redcar is that I’m really interested is to get the older audience to look at the younger audience because younger people have been shafted….it’s about making them included and getting them included and valued.”

Access is, as ever, in big demand. While contributors are now wised up to the potential perils of access, there’s also an increased openness. “The police are much more open and can see the benefits of allowing the camera in, in a way they didn’t five or 10 years ago,” says Mirsky. But access on its own isn’t enough. ITV’s obdoc on the London Fire Brigade saw Mentorn Media taking a new camera angle. “We had to approach that access thinking what can we do differently and we made sure that the cameras were used as they’d never been before, in the heat of the moment,” says Clinton-Davis.

Be it through drama, humour or a clever camera angle, audiences in 2017 seem to prefer even their gritty realism with a lightness of touch. It also helps if formats are not chewed over too much before they get made, says Simon Dickson, creative director at Label1 (Hospital). “Sometimes you can see commissioners over thinking formats and trying to inject social purpose and weighting them down with legacy which at the end of the day takes them further away from being the simple easy to engage with shows that the audience is currently looking for.”

And what are they looking for, how has demand changed? “We have to have our finger on the pulse,“ says Clinton-Davis. “With Brexit and with Trump, there’s something shifting in the tectonic plates and we as commissioners have got to be mindful of what those concerns are but embrace them in an entertaining way that gives audiences an escape from it or makes them think differently.”

The Televisual Factual Festival takes places on the 14th and 15th of November at Bafta. Go to for full details

Posted 28 September 2017 by Pippa Considine
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