There’s plenty to consider when it’s time to invest in expensive new kit, beyond whether it is has the right specifications for the job. For many, a key priority will not just be the quality of a camera or the versatility of an editing system, but how best to finance the purchase.
If you are fortunate enough to have a reasonably healthy bank balance, it might seem obvious to go ahead and purchase new kit upfront. But it is not necessarily the case. Buying outright is a good option if you have the capital available, or if it is essential that you own the equipment.
But other options, such as lease purchase (HP) or finance leasing, see a finance company buy the kit for your business to use in return for regular payments over a fixed period. These smaller payments will leave you with cash in the bank, but because you pay interest on the instalments, you will pay more for the goods in the long run.
Specialist finance companies in the broadcast sector include Azule Finance, Clockwork Capital, Paragon Bank Technology Finance and Medialease.
For example, Clockwork has, so far this year, funded projects including equipment and vehicles for a large-scale production in the Highlands; an IT refresh for a creative technology studio; a refurbishment loan for a facility move; camera bodies and lenses for a rental company; and cash flow finance for a company with a short term hiatus.
Medialease, meanwhile, has traditionally funded the post production business and some of the larger and mid-sized OB and TV/ Film production companies. It has also become more involved in the audio visual installation market, and the equipment intensive end of the live market for West End theatre shows, festival and music concerts.
Finance companies argue that it often makes sense to use lease purchase or finance leasing for kit, spreading payments to ease cash flow. The cash buffer in the bank could help your company if it ventures into choppy waters down the line.
Freeing up working capital also allows companies to invest in their businesses more effectively, particularly on development and new opportunities.
Geradine Scher, managing director of Clockwork Capital, says: “The maxim “cash is king” can refer to the balance sheet or cash flow of a business and having cash on hand is normally a positive sign, with a strong cash flow allowing a company more flexibility in regards to making business decisions and potential investments, such as key hires or even acquisitions, as well as being able to cover operational costs over a period of time, to hedge against any downturn in business. By hanging on to cash and utilising leasing when purchasing large value capital items you get immediate access to the equipment you need while easing cashflow and taking advantage of available tax benefits.”
Paul Robson, managing director of Medialease, adds: “It’s a question of cash flow and best use of it. Many customers we deal with have excellent cash flow and particularly good monies on deposit, but they might not wish to tie up that cash on buying assets that could easily be financed (at currently still very good interest rates generally). This enables them freedom to conserve cash reserves for potential other non-asset based requirements – expansion of premises, new premises investment / warehouse alterations, or simply in reserve for future tax payments or purchase of another company.”
From a management perspective, leasing simplifies budgeting because it offers a set payment every month. Monthly payments are fixed throughout the term regardless of what happens to interest rates or inflation. Leasing also allows you have access to the latest equipment or technology, which is particularly useful when technology is changing so fast.
If you decide to go down this route, there are multiple options available from finance companies. The two most common in the production sector are lease purchase (HP) and finance lease.
Lease purchase involves paying for the equipment in instalments over an agreed term after which the item is yours. A finance lease gives you the option to either return the equipment at the end of the lease period, continue renting it at a further reduced cost or selling the equipment on behalf of the financier whereby you retain a pre-agreed percentage of the sale proceeds.
There are a number of additional leasing options too, including an operating lease, where you lease the equipment for as long as you need it rather than a fixed period. The ownership then returns to the leasing company. Furthermore, there’s a contract lease option, which is similar to the operating lease but also includes maintenance cover.
Which of the above options you choose depends on whether you want to own the product at the end of the lease agreement. Different types of contracts also have different accounting, tax and VAT implications – which would be worth discussing in more detail with your accountant before proceeding.
Scher comments: “Finance leases enable the VAT element to be cashflowed along with the rentals on a monthly basis. Some of our technology funders are now favouring operating leases once again, which can provide significant cashflow and tax advantages to lessees, particularly if they want to refresh their equipment on a regular basis.”
In return for their investment, finance companies will want to see as much financial information as possible, plus clear evidence of the business rationale for your investment. Says Clockwork’s Scher: “Every deal is different and Clockwork has no hard and fast criteria because as a niche funder as well as broker to mainstream funders we are always prepared to look outside of the box to find a way of helping clients, but it is important to us that we meet with clients face to face. We work with start-ups, early stage and long-established businesses, finding them the best funding options to meet their specific needs.”
Medialease’s Robson adds: “As an intermediary and not the primary lender, we take all sorts – from new start companies to major PLC and VC backed companies. We fund the widest spectrum as we are not restricted to one bank / one decision maker.“
A specialist financier who knows the industry can make the documentation process run a lot more smoothly than approaching a bank direct, as well as providing advice about the best options to take.
Robson says: “On a larger deal, over say £200k, we know we can compete with the client’s bank and often provide a quicker and easier service for the same rates, if not slightly more competitive on the right terms and equipment. However for the much smaller companies and new start companies we will structure the deal to suit the customer – so if there is little or no deposit available or perhaps they are looking at a relatively large investment for the size of the company or size of their balance sheet, we can structure a deal that a traditional lender just can’t get to.”
Interest rates can vary from a few percentage points above the Bank of England’s base rate through to the mid-teens. The size of a deposit will also vary, ranging from 0% to 30%, and often depends on the perceived risk profile of your business to the lender.
Says Robson: “We have large post production and OB clients, turning over in excess of £10m per annum who we are providing funding to at under 2.5% flat rate and others at over 8% flat (equivalent to a spread of 4.5% to 17% across the spectrum of clients on an inherent % rate basis). It all depends on the strength and weaknesses of a customer, the size of the opportunity and the specific assets they are looking for us to buy.”
LEASING CASE STUDIES
John Rogerson, CEO
What were you looking to invest in? “Halo have done a great deal of spending over the past 12-18 months. The sharp rise in demand for UHD/4K delivery has necessitated a significant infrastructure upgrade. We always buy the best we can afford, it simply makes good sense - but it can be expensive. We’ve added a VFX department, a VR team, another 5.1 audio suite (our 8th), several online suites, a further grading suite… and another new building, our 4K finishing hub. So it was an expensive period.”
Why did you choose to lease rather than buy? “The reason for leasing as opposed to buying is simple. It spreads the cost of big ticket items over a number of years and makes it possible to buy the things you need, when you need them. Our reputation is built on being technically ahead of the game and creatively first-class so we don’t take chances on our infrastructure.”
Which company arranged the lease? ”Geraldine Scher at Clockwork Capital. We came across Geraldine in 2009 and have since become good friends. Geraldine played a big part in Halo’s success by taking a chance on us when we were smaller. We’ve stuck together ever since.”
Mike Georgiou, CFO
What were you looking to invest in? “In 2013 we began an investment and recruitment program to increase the number of services that we offer to drama and feature clients and transform the UK post production business into the UK’s leading one-stop-shop for audio and digital intermediate services. In May we opened Theatre 1, central London’s largest sound mixing theatre.”
Why did you choose to lease rather than buy? “Leasing is a much better use of the company’s working capital, especially given the scale of what we set out to do. Although there is an increase in the overall cost of the equipment, leasing allows us to spread the cost of that equipment over the time that it is used.”
Which company helped to arrange the lease? “Medialease. Paul, Simon, Ali and Kelly are a fantastic team to work and have been a great help to us over the years.”
Jon Howarth, Director
What were you looking to invest in? “A set of Cooke Anamorphic /i lenses which cost approximately £100k.”
Why did you choose to lease rather than buy? ”With the level of investment combined with the long life expectancy of these lenses, it makes sense to spread the cost of the investment over a long period to maintain our cash flow for other expenditure.”
Which company helped to arrange the lease? ”Azule Finance. We have worked with Azule for many years. They have a great understanding of the equipment and the industry.”
CCO, Procam group
What were you looking to invest in? “Our recent assets purchase of the camera side of Take 2.”
Why did you choose to lease rather than buy? ”Due to the significant financial commitment, we chose to lease – and negotiating a three year term lease also provides us with good visibility of future cash flows.”
Which company helped to arrange the lease? ”Paragon Bank Technology Finance because of their excellent customer service, in-depth industry knowledge and ability to access particularly competitive rates.”
The lack of studio space for film and TV has been a big issue for producers for a few years now.
The on-going boom in TV drama, aided by the introduction of the high-end drama tax break, has left many shows scouring far and wide for suitable spaces to film.
A continual flow of Hollywood films into the UK – like Star Wars: Episode VIII and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – has also driven up demand for studio space.
At the same time, the London area in particular has seen a steady decline in the availability of studio space. The BBC’s Television Centre and Riverside Studios are both closed for refurbishment. Others have closed altogether, most notably Teddington Studios, which was sold to a property developer. Fountain Studios, home to The X Factor, is set to close at the end of December – after a £16m sale to a property developer.
This squeeze in supply has only heightened demand for what space is left. “Stage space is at a premium,” confirms Twickenham Studios chief operating officer Maria Walker.
The Space Project concurs: “Drama and TV production in the UK is thriving…We are already taking bookings for 2018,” says general manager Colin Johnson. Pinewood describes the past year as “buoyant”. Sales director Mark Hackett says the UK is now a world leader in providing facilities and crews to the production of film, TV and games “and this shows in our high levels of occupancy.”
For many studios, this heightened level of demand has led to its own set of challenges – how to fit the work in. “While the lack of studio space across the UK, and particularly in London, is a challenge for the industry, it is an opportunity for us,” says 3 Mills Studios head of studios Tom Avison. Dock 10’s head of commercial Patrick Steel adds: “The hardest game of Tetris you’ve ever played doesn’t compare to the challenges in getting the best fit of large productions in the autumn.”
Bristol’s The Bottle Yard, for example, has hosted four big shows – at the same time: Galavant, Poldark, The Living and the Dead and Trollied.
The London Studios, says ITV Studios md of resources, Paul Bennett, remains extremely busy. “Some of our bookings extend way beyond the next 12 months.” Bennett is quick to add, however: “We might be able to do you a deal in August if you get in quick.”
However, business remains challenging for many studios – particularly for fully equipped TV studios. Budgets are under pressure for many shiny floor shows, with productions shopping round in an effort to spend less on studio hire. There has also been huge change at senior commissioner level at the BBC and ITV, meaning that decision making is delayed – leading to uncertainty or late cancellations for studios.
Many studios point to the challenge of booking in the right kind of shows to make good business sense. BBC Studioworks head of studios and post production services John O’Callaghan says: “For us, the key is having a balance of long-term shows which can be in the studios for 20 weeks producing four shows a day and also weekly, fast turnaround topical shows.”
The London Studios’ Paul Bennett adds that studios have to work faster to turn projects around: “Broadcasters’ budgets are ever more challenging and so production companies are always looking for best value – our ability to turn shows around extremely quickly maximises their ‘on-camera’ time...We can even use a single studio for three different live productions, with three different sets, in a single day.”
Many more studios are set to open in the next year or two, alleviating the problems facing producers – but adding to the competition for existing providers. This month, Pinewood opens five new large sound stages and additional facilities as part of an expansion plan approved back in 2014.
Three studios are set to reopen at the BBC former Television Centre HQ in spring 2017, with bookings being taken later this year.
The Space Project is also set to double in size, having won a £14m investment package.
Warner Bros-owned Leavesden Studios, meanwhile, plans to extend facilities at the 200 acre site by a quarter.
North London’s Elstree Studio complex is also expanding, building more stages and technical facilities.
Belfast’s Titantic Quarter, home to Game of Thrones, is investing £14m to develop two more film studios. A new £10m studio complex to rival Titanic is also in the works at North Foreshore Film Studios, an ex- landfill site at Belfast Harbour.
Screen Yorkshire is converting a former RAF base into a studio facility, and has already enticed ITV drama Victoria to shoot there.
Pending council approval, Liverpool could also be opening its first film studio. The £25m scheme is on the 4.5 acre site of a former Littlewoods warehouse.
Scotland, long without a significant studio space, could finally be about to have its own studios, with plans afoot to develop Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld and Pentland Studios outside Edinburgh.
This rush to build studios has sparked concern about whether the expansion is sustainable over the long term. Says Pinewood’s Mark Hackett: “We all know how fast things can change so no-one is resting on their laurels…we are always striving to improve and develop new ways to support the creative industries achieve their ambitions.”
There’s very little, on the surface, that links naturalist Gerald Durrell, novelist Neil Gaiman and thriller writer Len Deighton. Yet Sid Gentle Films is currently juggling three TV dramas based on stories by these three very different writers.
Sid Gentle was launched in 2013 by Sally Woodward Gentle, the former creative director at Downton Abbey producer Carnival Films, with Lee Morris as md and Henrietta Colvin as head of development. It is backed by global investment firm The Yucaipa Companies.
A whole host of drama indies have launched since then, looking to take advantage of the demand for long form scripted shows. But Sid Gentle has quickly made strong headway in this competitive landscape.
Its very first drama, The Durrells, was a hit for ITV, which promptly commissioned a second series. It starts shooting in August. This month, Sky Arts launched Likely Stories, a four part adaptation of short stories from Neil Gaiman, directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, the duo responsible for Nick Cave film 20,000 Days on Earth, with an original score by Jarvis Cocker. And in the autumn, Sid Gentle delivers its BBC1 adaptation of Len Deighton’s SS – GB (below), penned by Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Set in Nazi-occupied London, it’s based on the premise that Germany won the Battle of Britain.
At one point, Sid Gentle – which has six full time staff working from its Fitzrovia office – was filming on all three projects at the same time.
As well as being book adaptations, Woodward Gentle says the three dramas are linked in that Sid Gentle has sought “to be completely true to the material.” The Durrells, for example, is “completely authored by Simon Nye” who adapted all of them. “Filming in Corfu, we were in a little bubble – there was no sense we had to do this for an ITV audience. It was about doing it because the material demanded it.”
Sid Gentle made one key change to the book, shifting the focus from Gerald Durrell onto his mother. “Then you have got almost the perfect construct – a woman with four unruly children. They have all got their own individual problems, they bicker like any other family, but deep down they love each other. Then you have stunning Corfu, animals and Simon Nye’s beautiful writing – it sort of works.”
The adaptation of four Neil Gaiman short stories couldn’t be more different. In this era of box set dramas, each is self contained and runs to 22 minutes. But, says Woodward Gentle, they are linked by common themes – human consumption, destructive obsession and psychological cannibalism.
Woodward Gentle was introduced to Gaiman’s short stories by his agent, Mel Kenyon. “I sat and read about 40 – they are extraordinary.” The choice of a single directing team was important too, meaning that Forsyth and Pollard “could realise them as something that has a completeness.” Forsyth and Pollard’s background is as artists, with their work exhibiting at the Tate Gallery and ICA. “They have an amazing aesthetic and incredible attention to detail.”
SS – GB, meanwhile, is still in post. Deighton’s thriller, says Woodward Gentle, is cerebral rather than a big action series. “It is another authored piece – we have one director Philipp Kadelback doing all five hours.” Kadelback is German. “Again we are working with a director who is not really within the British system,” says Woodward Gentle, emphasising how Sid Gentle’s dramas are helmed by slightly left-field choices (The Durrells was directed by Steve Barron, who made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
Woodward Gentle clearly enjoys the freedom that running her own indie entails. She likens it to the early days of Kudos, where she used to work. “You are a tiny little team, you develop stuff you love and think you can sell and you make it to the best of your abilities. Because we are not owned by a distributor and our backers are incredibly in the background, we can do what we believe in.” Likely Stories ‘frankly isn’t going to do anything to our bottom line’. But, she highlights that it has meant working with Gaiman, Forsyth, Pollard and Cocker. “We want to build a reputation for working with really interesting people.”
Looking ahead, Woodward Gentle acknowledges that high broadcaster demand for drama “doesn’t seem to be tapering off at all.” The likes of Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and BBC America have expanded the client base for drama indies. But this, she adds, has led to greater competition. “Lots of people out there are making things and everybody is setting up an indie.” The price of book rights has also gone up, she says. “New contemporary books are really hard to pick up because the competition is massive.” And there is a lot of competition for the best writers.
As for trends, she says TV drama is notoriously cyclical. “There is a complete over development of period material and so there is now a big need for contemporary material.”
Sally Woodward Gentle launched Sid Gentle Films in September 2013.
She was previously creative director of Carnival Films, executive producing Whitechapel, Any Human Heart and Enid.
Before Carnival, she was the creative director for BBC Drama Production. At the BBC she worked on Tipping the Velvet, Cambridge Spies, Waking the Dead, the first series of the new Dr Who, and The House of Saddam.
Woodward Gentle was formerly managing director of Kudos, executive producing Psychos and overseeing the development of Spooks.
As voters head to the polls in the referendum, it’s worth reflecting on what a Remain or Leave vote might mean for the UK’s creative industries.
The creative industries have been one of the great success stories of the UK economy in recent years.
Take the studios sector, for example, which has boomed thanks to the growth in big budget international dramas and films shot in the UK.
Studios here have hosted a raft of films and TV shows such as Warner Bros’ upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Netflix’s The Crown or HBO's Game of Thrones, reflecting how the UK has become one of the pre-eminent global production hubs. The picture above, for example, is of Tom Cruise filming The Edge of Tomorrow on the backlot at Warner Bros’ Leavesden Studios.
International talent and finance has flowed into the UK, coursing through the extensive supply chain that supports production – whether Soho vfx houses or Belfast studios.
Figures show that the UK’s creative economy is growing much faster than its European neighbours. Employment in the UK’s creative industries has risen three times faster than in the EU as a whole, according to Nesta. The UK accounts for 14% of the total EU workforce, but 21% of all creative industry jobs. Clearly, the EU is doing very little to hold back the UK creativity.
In fact, having access to a single market of over 500m people has been a boon. The EU is the largest export market for the UK’s creative industries, totalling 56% of all overseas trade in the sector, according to the Creative Industries Federation. Pact figures, meanwhile, show that Europe accounts for 31% of UK television exports, just behind the lucrative North American market.
Creative industry executives say it is vital that the UK stays in the EU so it can influence regulatory decisions which may have a bearing on future trading. Others point out that EU funding has supported films like The King’s Speech or development organisations like Screen Yorkshire.
Most importantly, though, the UK’s status as a creative hub is enhanced hugely by the free movement of talent, capital and cultural exchange within the EU. The UK is by far the biggest recipient of foreign investment in the EU. We are a bridge to Europe for Hollywood studios, many of whom base their HQs and their biggest films here.
A vote to leave would be unlikely to change all this overnight. But EU markets would likely become harder to access, which would gradually have an impact on the UK creative sector, harming its current status.
Creative hubs are fragile constructions, and there are many competitors looking to steal the UK’s crown. Why put it all at risk on the 23 June?
IMAX has been taking cinemagoers into space since 1990, with immersive and technically complex films such as Space Station 3D and Hubble 3D. Its latest, A Beautiful Planet 3D, features footage of Earth from space – all shot by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
A Beautiful Planet is notable not just for its stunning representation of our world and the effects that humanity has had on it over time. It also marks a new departure for IMAX in how it makes films in space.
For the first time on an IMAX space production, the filmmakers chose to use digital cameras rather than film. The decision was made partly out of necessity as the space trucks used to transport bulky IMAX cameras and film negative had been taken out of service.
So, when work on the film first began in 2012, one of the first jobs was to test and select the right cameras to send into space. DoP James Neihouse says he drew up a shortlist of top digital cameras that he thought might be suitable: the Canon C300, Red Epic, Arri Alexa M and the Sony F65 and put them up against the IMAX film cameras, shooting the same scenes to test their capabilities. He liked the Arri, but it ‘fell off’ the list because it was a 2K camera. The Sony F65 was also dropped, in part because he thought it would be difficult for astronauts to operate.
Neihouse later added Canon’s just launched C500 into the mix. “The uncompressed 4K coming out of the C500 was definitely the clear, hands down winner compared to the 5K uncompressed coming out of the Red,” he says. The C500 was selected, alongside the Canon EOS 1D-C digital SLR cameras, and Canon Cinema Zoom and Prime lenses.
To capture 4K images, the filmmakers paired the C500 with Codex Onboard S Plus Recorders, which hold half a terabyte of data – allowing 30 minutes of recording time on a data pack the size of an iPhone.
This was a vast improvement on previous IMAX space productions. One film reel might weigh 10 pounds and had three minutes of record time. “The most we ever had was eight rolls in a shuttle mission,” says director Toni Myers. “There was no take two with film; the astronauts really had to get it right first time.”
Neihouse and Myers spent about 25 hours over the course of nine months to a year training each astronaut how to use the kit at the Johnson Flight Centre in Houston. The astronauts were quick to master the particular filmmaking techniques needed for IMAX and 3D, particularly around framing, composition and shot length. Says Myers: “They are astronauts! They are very talented and work it out for themselves.”
The longer recording capabilities of the digital cameras meant that the pressure was off astronauts to deliver ‘performances’ needed in the time-limited days of film. The old IMAX film cameras were also incredibly noisy, and distracting to astronauts. “They sounded like a lawnmower,” says Myers.
The digital footage, adds Neihouse, is a lot more natural and relaxed – like a fly on the wall documentary. “It gives you a better look into what life is like on the Space Station,” he says. The better light sensitivity of the digital cameras also allowed the crew to capture nighttime scenes that were hard to shoot on film. “It totally opened up that night world to us, with stars, cities at night, lightning and other phenomena you see at night like Aurora,” says Myers.
Before the launch, Myers and Neihouse provided the astronauts with a shot list of 100 to 150 targets, and they were also given the freedom to shoot what they saw. They could downlink footage to Earth via the Space Station’s satellite communications system, allowing Myers and Neihouse to review it – and provide direction. Says Myers: “I could then do a PowerPoint and take screen grabs, put arrows all over it, and say, ‘Don’t do this, do that,’ and send it back to them.” One common mistake that needed ironing out was the tendency of the astronauts to shoot their images upright, as if on Earth, and not to take advantage of zero gravity – which viewers want to experience for themselves on screen.
The cameras spent some 15 months on board the ISS. The astronauts had a busy schedule of experiments and maintenance to carry out, so the majority of footage and still photography was shot during their personal time on nights and weekends. In total, they captured 250,000 still photos and between 10 and 12 terabytes of footage.
This was digitally remastered for IMAX screens, where A Beautiful Planet should play for many years to come, says Neihouse. “The reason IMAX films stay around so long in theatres is people go back and they see new things in the frame…I saw A Beautiful Planet about fifteen times before I realized there were two orange space-alien stuffed toys in one scene.”
Presented in IMAX 3D, A Beautiful Planet was filmed by astronauts on the International Space Station, and depicts the impact humans have had on Earth over time - from the bright lights of big cities to the deforestation of Madagascar and the oil and gas flares in the Gulf of New Mexico. “I wanted to reach a new generation of school kids with an appreciation of how complex, beautiful and fragile the planet really is,” says producer and director Toni Myers.
Producer, director, editor and writer
Toni Myers DoP and astronaut trainer
James Neihouse Executive producer
Graeme Ferguson Co-producer
Judy Carroll Space operations consultant
Marsha Ivins Music Micky Erbe Sound design
Peter Thillaye Cameras
Canon C500, Canon EOS 1D-C Lenses
Canon Cinema Zoom and Primes Media recorders
Codex Onboard S Plus
A health scare prompted Steph Keelan to realise a long-delayed ambition of making a documentary. Directed and produced with Emma Harpin, Swim the Channel was entirely self funded - and has just been picked up by BBC4.
Here Keelan (pictured left), who is the director of hire and crewing firm S+O Media, explains how she and Harpin (right) made the film.
Tell us about Swim the Channel?
It’s about the swimmers and volunteers found along the Kent coastline from May to September working together to attempt their dream of swimming the English Channel. It’s about what pushes ordinary people to exceed their limits. Everyone on that coast is searching for something within. There’s an appeal to that. More people have climbed Everest than have swum from England and France.
Where did the idea come from?
I was training in Morocco on my fortieth birthday for the London Marathon (a mid life crisis). Mike Oram, the pilot in the film, was staying in the same hotel. He gave me a grilling every morning about my training methods, and how I was putting physical fitness above mental strength. We got talking and I couldn’t shake the visual image of him navigating the swimmers to France barking their truth at them along the way. The line he said that hooked me was, ‘It’s as hard for me as it is for the swimmer but I do it with a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich’. When running the marathon the only voice in my head was Mike’s and I nailed it! He tells it how it is - spending a season filming a community of Oram’s suddenly became appealing.
Why did you self fund?
I had always wanted to work in documentaries but with two children and a cameraman husband it didn’t seem a feasible work/life balance. So I worked at facilitating the TV gold of others until a health scare prompted me to get off my arse and make the film I’d always wanted to. Emma is a photographer, fellow mother and friend who was keen to share the journey with us and so off we went.
What was the budget?
There was no budget plan. We knew we had to immerse ourselves into the swimming community to gain their trust so we had to film every weekend and at every swimming event. As a result the costs spiralled but the access was priceless. We were incredibly lucky to have S+O’s shelves of kit and amazing crew who gave their time and talent so generously. Envy Post were also amazing; they got behind the project and supported us seeing the film through to the finish.
Damon Albarn contributed the music. How did he get involved?
Emma had been a friend of Damon and his partner Suzi for fifteen years. Emma got talking to Damon about the film and he offered his musical services. Still can’t quite believe it really. He worked alongside Suzi Winstanley and Michael Smith. We can’t thank them enough for their time and creative input.
What kit did you use?
We used the Canon C300. Olly Wiggins, the DoP, wanted to create a strong cinematic look so we shot primarily with a fixed 35mm lens. The camera was light, robust, and shot in C Log, the footage graded beautifully.
Coming from a hire background, what did you learn about reality of producing and directing?
I had a background in production prior to setting up S+O with Olly and I love my job. But it was great to reconnect to a story from start to finish. As a TV facilities house we are very aware that every day we shoot is the culmination of months of hard work and prep for our clients. It was nice not to hand the baby back for a change! The edit was an incredible experience, we worked with Alex Fry and the process was dynamic and frustrating in equal measure - a form of alchemy.
Greatest challenge of making the film?
Resources, juggling childcare and the day job, and up to twenty hours at a time without sleep on a boat. Luckily most filming was at weekends but it did escalate to seven day weeks pretty quickly.
What do you wish you’d known when you started out - and what did you learn along the way?
We learned that syncing sound is everything! And never stop the flow of what is happening in front of camera as you can forgive the odd sound glitch or camera wobble but you can never recreate what happens before your eyes.
Tips for somebody wanting to self fund their own film?
Make sure you are clear from the onset of what you’re trying to achieve to avoid costly mistakes, and where possible shoot a taster and get funding to test the idea works. Be fiercely passionate about your subject as there will be challenges along the way that will break you. Without a true love for the story you’re trying to tell you’re going to suffer.
How did you sell it to BBC4?
We contacted Storyville and they were gracious enough to watch it and offer us a slot with BBC4. We’re delighted and can’t wait for TX.
A prolific writer with credits including Stormbreaker and Foyle’s War, Anthony Horowitz tells Tim Dams about his latest New Blood
New Blood is your first BBC drama – how did it come about? I have been an ITV writer for a very, very long time. About 80% of my work has been for ITV. But I began conversations with [former BBC head of drama] Ben Stephenson and mentioned to him that I had a new crime format. He was very interested, particularly as he was looking for material that would play younger, for an audience in their twenties and thirties. I sent Ben the first script on Monday for New Blood, and by Friday he had commissioned it.
Why didn’t you take it to ITV? For a long time I have argued that the three breaks in an hour of ITV drama makes it extremely difficult for a writer to maintain any degree of emotional honesty. Or just to keep the narrative rolling. I have long wanted the purity of the BBC1 hour.
What spurred you to write New Blood? My interest is what it is like to be 20 - 25 years old in London. And that is what gives this show its freshness. The leads are not those slow middle-aged problem-carrying detectives you see so often on TV. They get drunk, they bicycle everywhere, they are always asking for a pay rise, they cling to their jobs by their fingernails. The show has got that smile to it, which I think has been missing from British television.
So it’s not a dark, grungy show? I am slightly wary of more battered women, more chopped up women, more kidnapped children – all that stuff. I want something that makes me smile but which has the same danger, and the same excitement.
What kind of shows would you compare it to? People have talked about Spooks, Starsky and Hutch. I often mention Lethal Weapon because that gives you an idea of the bromance at the heart of it, and the banter and the fun – in a dangerous and quite violent world. The action is a little heightened. At the end of episode three, the two boys are chased through a London hotel by two chamber maids with AK-47 machine guns. They get to the roof and realise the only way out is to jump off the roof down into the swimming pool below.
Tell us about the casting? It’s brave of the BBC to launch a major 9pm show with two unknowns who are carrying the whole thing on their shoulders. I wanted the boys to be outsiders. I didn’t want them to be British – Anglo-Saxon white British. That puts them into too much of a mould: what school they went too, what class their parents were. So I thought I would go Eastern European and Iranian.
And it’s in London? We shot a lot in East London. London is very much a third character. The London you see is cosmopolitan and multinational. It is very now – London with all its energy.
What’s the climate like for TV writers now? The atmosphere has changed while I have been a writer. It is now a fantastic time to be a TV writer. If I asked someone in the street five years ago to name half a dozen TV writers, they wouldn’t be able to name one. But now names like Sally Wainwright, Jed Mercurio or Vince Gilligan are household names because television has become authored.
Television has become what literature was 20 years ago – it’s a hotbed of new ideas and people trying to do original things rather than making tired formats. Now you can watch shows like Breaking Bad, The Good Wife or The Night Manager. 20 years ago it wasn’t like that – TV has come of age.
You’ve written over 40 novels as well as plays and TV screenplays. How do you fit it all in? It boils down to no social life! That’s not true entirely. But I love writing – I adore storytelling – I love the whole business. I work very, very long hours. So does Jill. Sometimes we will sit together in our Clerkenwell home and it will be 11.30 on a Friday night and we are both at our desks doing stuff.. I think being married to the producer creates an environment where work comes first. It always does. My children know this as well. Work comes first – that is the rule in the family.
Which medium do you enjoy most – plays, TV or novels? Probably TV – I love the collaboration, the excitement, the speed. I love the fact that a TV page has got fewer words on it than a page of a novel. There’s more white space, so less to do! What excites me is that Ben and Mark are going to be stars in six months time. And they are so nice, and they have been such fun to work with. You don’t get that with a book.
Newcomers Mark Strepan (The Mill) and Ben Tavassoli (No Offence) star in Horowitz’s new BBC1 investigative drama, New Blood.
The 7x60-series is produced by Eleventh Hour Films (Safe House, Foyle’s War, Vexed), which is run by Horowitz’s wife Jill Green.
Directed by Anthony Philipson (Cuffs, Our Girl) New Blood portrays modern London through the eyes of two outsiders – one Polish/British and the other Iranian/British.
Strepan and Tavassoli play the roles of junior investigators working at the Serious Fraud Office and the police. Brought together by two seemingly unrelated cases, they come up against the uber rich and powerful – corporations, individuals, governments and the new breed of criminals who hide behind legitimate facades and are guarded by lawyers.
The series producer is Eve Gutierrez.
New Blood is available on the iPlayer now and airs on BBC1 at 9pm on Thursday 9th June