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Finding funds in the English regions

English regional screen agencies have been an important source of financing for producers in recent years, helping fund projects such as Married Single Other, Red Riding, Inspector George Gently and The Unloved.

Unsurprisingly, however, there’s a big question mark over how much longer the largesse of English screen agencies will last. With government finances under severe pressure, the traditional backers of the nine English regional screen agencies – the UK Film Council, Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – are facing their own funding problems.

Many agencies struck fixed term funding deals several years ago with their RDAs or ERDFs which are now coming to an end.

For example, Screen Yorkshire has been one of the most high profile funding agencies in recent years, backing acclaimed dramas such as Red Riding, Lost in Austen and Married Single Other. Its £10m four year funding programme from its local RDA, Yorkshire Forward, comes to an end in a few months and it now has its own funding applications in with unnamed organisations to secure further financing.

Similarly, EM Media is coming to the end of a £6m fund from the ERDF which allowed it to back features such as Shane Meadows' This Is England, Samantha Morton's The Unloved and Anton Corbijn's Control. It's also had further investment to the tune of £500k from its local RDA and it is coming to the end of that. It too is involved in delicate re-funding negotiations.

Meanwhile, Northwest Vision+Media no longer directly gives funding for productions but, says sector lead for broadcast, music and publishing Maureen Walker, it will help producers and directors find and exploit what funding is out there, citing the North West Venture Capital Loan Fund which launches later this year with a dedicated fund of between £15m and £30m for the digital and creative industries.

On the flip side, Northern Film and Media have just launched a £2.4m fund. In a first for a regional screen agency, it's teamed up with a venture capital firm NorthStar Equity Investors to manage the cash. This public/private model is being eyed up with interest by other regional screen agencies.

And Screen East have just launched a £3.5m Low Carbon Fund which aims to invest in a minimum of 15 productions.

See the April edition for Televisual for further details

Posted 30 March 2010 by Tim Dams

The best way to turn down a pitch

One of the most important parts of a commissioning editor's job is learning the many ways of saying 'no' to programme pitches.

Recently, commissioners have been able to rely on a particularly effective way of turning producer ideas down.

It’s all thanks to the rise of advertiser funded programming (AFP). Cash strapped commercial broadcasters, particularly Five, have enthusiastically embraced AFP to fund shows such as Chinese Food in Minutes (pictured), which is backed by Sharwoods.

Now, instead of simply rejecting an idea, a commissioner can express enthusiasm for the proposal but say there’s no budget and then ask the producer to find an advertiser to fund it.

This is tantamount to a polite but flat out rejection as, contrary to all the industry hype surrounding AFP, it’s very difficult to find advertisers who are prepared to fully fund TV programmes.

AFP specialist Simon Wells of Drum Screen, who played a key role in the resurrection of ITV1’s The Krypton Factor which is backed by IT firm Sage, explains: “A commissioning editor’s answer to a programme pitch used to be ‘yes, no or maybe in six months.’

“Now it’s ‘yes, no, maybe or if you can find money from the advertiser come back’. That’s said in the pretty certain knowledge that it’s very, very hard to find money from an advertiser.”

Posted 25 March 2010 by Tim Dams

The lure of South Africa

It's got little to do with the World Cup, but there's a rush on right now for British TV producers to film out in South Africa.

The reason is South Africa’s favourable tax breaks, which have recently attracted the likes of Kudos post apocalyptic BBC1 drama Outcasts and Left Bank’s Sky One drama Strikeback out to the country.

Televisual is putting together a finance special for its April issue, and South Africa is cited as the top destination for producers looking access international tax breaks to help make their production budgets go further.

Stephen McDonogh, head of co-production funding, content & production at BBC Worldwide, gives the following advice:

“I’d say currently the top four tax incentives in TV are of the non-recoupable type based on a return on local qualifying expenditures within the following countries:

1. South Africa: 15% (foreign film - production services) or 35% (co-productions). Good value for money (although ever weakening sterling is reducing this margin!), experienced SA crews and great for winter filming but ZAR10m cap limits benefit on higher budgets.

2. Canada: combining Federal (15%-25%) and Provincial (23%-65%) tax credits (largely limited to qualifying labour expenses only) – rules on higher rates are complex to secure and usually only show a real benefit if there is a significant Canadian broadcaster investment.

3. Ireland: 28% (Section 481) – easy to set up, paid on first day of filming but Ireland remains expensive.

4. France: 20% (TRIPS) – great newcomer, no French language requirements designed for international productions filming in France. Downside - many key expenses are excluded and French labour social security costs remain one of the most expensive in Europe.

The above ‘soft money’ incentives also work very well in combination of each other on a single production (e.g. CAN/IRE or CAN/SA).”

See Televisual’s April edition for full details.

Posted 23 March 2010 by Tim Dams

TV and film's big bet on 3d

If you want evidence of the big bet that the TV and film industries are putting on 3d, then a day long European press briefing held by Sony Professional last week provided it.

Sony flew over about 40 journalists from countries such as France, Germany, Sweden and Spain to its Basingstoke HQ to outline its 3d plans and to showcase 3d kit from cameras, OB trucks right through to new Sony Bravia 3d televisions. Senior execs from Sony as well as Sky and OB outfit Telegenic were rolled out to give presentations.

By the end of the day, journalists were left with little doubt that Sony believes that 3d will be a big driver for its business going forward.

Sony will have 3d televisions in stores in Europe in time for this year’s World Cup, where 25 games are due to be filmed in 3d.

The World Cup is expected to give only a modest boost to the consumer take-up of 3d but, crucially, it’s likely that ‘early adopters and status seekers’ will go out and buy the sets ahead of the event.

However, Sony execs believe the real tipping point for mass market 3d TV adoption will come around the time of the 2012 London Olympics.

Sony sets will require proprietary glasses. All manufacturers are looking at creating 3d TV sets that don’t require glasses, but these are long way off yet. “We’re many years away from a really good bright 3d display that doesn’t require glasses,” says Sony Professional’s Paul Cameron.

Tips for shooting in 3d came thick and fast on the day. Key lessons included:

1. It’s much easier on the viewer’s eye if the 3d action takes place behind the screens, rather than leaping out at them.

2. You don’t need as many cameras to shoot 3d sports events. Sky took five 3d cameras to film Usain Bolt’s 100m dash in Manchester last year, but only really needed two.

3. Camera positions are really important. High and wide shots that look down from a long distance in football stadiums, for example, are very disappointing.

4. Rain is a big problem. If you get a drop of rain on one of the camera’s dual lenses, it messes up the image.

5. Cameras shooting a subject at an angle give a great sense of depth, compared to cameras that shoot directly in front or to the side.

6 You can cut 2d and 3d footage together - the interplay between the two does work.

Both Sky and OB outfit Telegenic are clearly betting big on 3d.  Telegenic has already built one 3d OB truck from the ground up. Telegenic’s Eamonn Curtinn said, “We are so confident that 3d is going to work that we have commissioned a second 3d truck to be ready in July.”

The big push by manufactuers, broadcasters and producers into 3d also means that suddenly there’s a huge demand for skilled 3d workers, in particular stereographers. “If anyone knows any or where I can find them, I'm desperate for them,” said Sky Sports director of operations Darren Long.

Posted 16 March 2010 by Tim Dams

Is TV a young girl's game?

If you look at the upper echelons of TV, there are plenty of women at the top table, from Dawn Airey at Channel Five through to Lorraine Heggessey at Talkbackthames, Jay Hunt at BBC1 and Janice Hadlow at BBC2.

On the surface, TV is one of the most open and accessible industries to women, with the glass ceiling well and truly smashed. Yet Skillset's 2009 Employment Census Report is due to reveal real differences between men and women in the TV workforce, with particular evidence that women aged over 35 are women leaving.

The issue is being discussed up at a MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Edinburgh TV Festival/BAFTA debate later this month, titled Is TV a young girl's game?, which will look at what barriers are being faced by women and ask whether the industry is institutionally ageist and sexist?

Ahead of the MGEITF/BAFTA debate, Televisual picked up on the subject and asked four senior female execs if TV is a young girl's game? Here's what they had to say:

Karen Smith, joint md, Shine TV
"I bloody hope not! And speaking as a female md, that's part of a group run by women, I really don't think so. The brutal truth is that life is easier if you get yourself well established before you have children. It is also hard work and long hours but, if you're talented, TV is probably more forgiving than most industries. Men in TV often have as many childcare issues as women - a commissioner meeting was rescheduled recently because he had to pick his kids up from school - nobody minded. Good people are the key to any company thriving and are hard to find so must be cherished. If that's not your experience, you're working at the wrong place."

Anne Morrison, director, BBC Academy
"We need the life experience of older women reflected on our screens, yet the insecurity, long and erratic hours of our industry mean that too many women are still having to decide between family life and working in TV. When I started in the BBC in the 1980s it felt like a gentleman's club. Over the years, family friendly policies have meant that now half of BBC Vision's workforce are women. However, being a freelance director and a mother requires as much creativity in working out support systems at home as goes on screen. Take my tip and consider finding a supportive stay at home partner. It's made all the difference to me."

Eileen Gallagher, chief executive, Shed Productions
"Simple answer is it shouldn't be - but the stats seem to prove the point. Looking at Shed Media's employment stats (PAYE only, so not counting the armies of production staff) I was surprised to find that 60% of our staff are female, but the average age of men and women was virtually the same (male 34yrs; female 33.2yrs). Women in our company seem to fare well in terms of employment and don't appear to be discriminated against as they grow older. Our HR department works to support staff in their life choices with enhanced parental benefits and opportunities to work from home. It's the right thing to do morally but also makes sound economic sense."

Sue Davidson, executive producer, The Apprentice, Talkbackthames
"I don't want to be negative because I am enjoying my TV career and consider myself to be 'in my prime'. And as I am working in an indie run by successful women there doesn't seem much to complain of. But I have a deep, niggling worry that one day soon it will all come to an end, not because I have run out of ideas and energy but because I might look older. A bit like our on-screen counterparts, women are perceived not to age as well as men. I do fear this prejudice and even commenting here is a bit like 'coming out' and feels risky."

Working in TV: is it a Young Girl's Game?, presented by MediaGuardian Edinburgh Int'l TVFestival and BAFTA, takes place on 17 March at BAFTA, 195 Piccadilly. See

Posted 11 March 2010 by Tim Dams

Can Pineapple Dance Studios save factual TV?

Sky1’s formatted doc Pineapple Dance Studios is a “ground breaking TV format” that points the way for producers looking to reinvent factual and entertainment formats.

So thinks Alex Connock, the boss of one of Britain’s biggest factual TV producers, Ten Alps, which owns blue-chip documentary makers Brook Lapping and Films of Record.

Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch today Connock said: “Pineapple Dance Studios is frivolous docusoap about a Covent Garden dance company. In a nice way it’s a load of old nonsense, but a groundbreaking TV format. They [producers Pulse Films] have invented something called the performance doc.”

“The world of TV formats is in a constant state of evolution but in the last few years it’s been in stasis because of the whole panic over factual TV. But I think you are going to see a new explosion in factual formats over the next couple of years and Pineapple Dance Studios is right at the cutting edge of it. Everybody who works in TV loves it because it is so innovative and there is so much joi de vivre about it.”

For the record, Connock is not involved in the production at all and says he doesn’t know the production company behind Pineapple Dance Studios, Pulse Films.

Connock thinks the big challenge in TV in the years ahead is to create new entertainment formats. “All the big formats of first decade of 21st century are at the end of their shelf life. Big Brother has been decommissioned while judging shows like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent are being sustained by the charisma of Simon Cowell. The big challenge that the BBC, ITV and Sky face is what is next global entertainment format. That is the elixir - that is what they are after.”

Reinventing formats that sell abroad is one of the ways that Connock thinks that British media can help the UK export itself out of the recession.

To help boost British media exports, Connock also called for the BBC to create an online equivalent of the BBC’s Window of Creative Competition (WOCC) and open up the BBC’s online activities to outside producers and organisations.

“The WOCC has been a genuine success. You could build on that success online. So you could have situation where the BBC says lets have a Shakespeare presence and would put that out to tender to BBC drama and the Royal Shakespeare Company…and may the best man win. Say the RSC won because it had a better proposition, you’d strategically put all BBC Shakespeare on the RSC site. That would be a real serious value builder for the UK."

He added that if the BBC created strategic partnerships with other cultural organisations in the UK, as suggested by BBC director general Mark Thompson last week, it could create valuable assets for Britain.

If organisations like The National Gallery, The Royal Opera House and the Tate Gallery could get access to the BBC’s programme library and resources “they could take tentative steps to become broadcasters in their own right”, he said.

Posted 10 March 2010 by Tim Dams
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