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Interview: Double Negative's Alex Hope

Double Negative’s imposing new office on Great Portland Street is a physical testament to the work 
of the visual effects company.

The specially designed interior houses up to 900 staff over five floors – and on each level they are working on a different film.

On the fifth floor, a team of artists are creating the vfx for the new Superman film. On the floor below is Thor 2. Below that is Fast & Furious 6, then Edgar Wright’s World’s End and The Hunger Games sequel.

Double Negative moved into the new building (the former HQ of Virgin Media) at the turn of the 
year, consolidating its workforce from three Soho sites.

Set up 15 years ago with just 30 staff, Double Negative’s rise into one of Hollywood’s most trusted suppliers has been swift. The company was formed in the summer of 1998 by a team of MPC vfx specialists: Alex Hope, Matt Holben, Paul Franklin, Peter Chiang, Charlie Noble and Paul Riddle. They were initially backed by UK film studio Polygram, buying themselves out within a few years. Double Negative has remained a privately owned company ever since.

Back then, recalls md Alex Hope, the UK film vfx sector was “almost a cottage industry.” But, between the late 90s and 2005, things changed dramatically. 
The four biggest companies – Framestore, MPC, Cinesite and Double Negative – grew by up to 500% 
in terms of employment, according to a UK Screen survey. “The British vfx industry went from being peripheral to really becoming a global centre.”

Hope cites three contributing factors. First, Warners’ decision to make the Harry Potter franchise in the UK, which underpinned the industry and showcased the abilities of British artists to Hollywood.  Second, the UK’s “simple, well understood tax credit”. And third, the fact that vfx companies could build on the legacy of “a great UK film industry” and a talented  pool of commercials vfx artists.

Double Negative has grown from a company with a turnover of £3m in 1999 to £75m in 2012. Hope believes a fundamental part of this growth comes from “our commitment to R&D to try to push the technology we have as far as possible.” He won’t put a figure on it, but says the company invests “many, many millions of pounds” on new kit each year. This, he believes, also helps attract the best artists and films to the firm. “We have tried to go after the most challenging, interesting work out there. We are only as good as the artists and the developers we have working here. And the very best artists and programmers in the world want to be working on the best films.”

Good management is also crucial. Hollywood films are so big and complex that companies must be able to deploy hundreds of artists at any one time in a scaleable way. “It’s vital our clients feel confident that we can not only do the work they have committed to us, but also that we can handle more work on particular sequences if the film changes and evolves.”

Double Negative has also expanded geographically, opening an office in Singapore which employs 200. Hope says it allows Double Negative to offer ‘end to end’ coverage to Hollywood clients at the beginning and end of the LA day. The company is also mulling an office in Canada, lured by the country’s film tax credits.

Of course, the global market represents both an opportunity – and a threat – for an outfit like Double Negative. As the financial difficulties of Californian outfit Rhythm & Hues (Life of Pi) and Australia’s Fuel VFX (Prometheus) prove, it can be a brutal business even for those working on high profile films. Other global centres of vfx could step up to challenge London’s pre-eminence. “What creates these centres are tax incentives and talent,” says Hope, arguing that China and India will “definitely see growth.”

Meanwhile, Double Negative has also just launched its own film production arm, partnering with Pinewood Shepperton and Steve Norris’ Apollo Productions to back British films. The move, says Hope, is about “ensuring that we are fully engaged with the independent sector in this country.” British films, after all, have formed an important part of Double Negative’s business, with credits including Billy Elliot, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, In Bruges and Attack the Block.   

The move makes sense for Double Negative, helping it to establish relationships with rising British directors. “We’re lucky to have worked on all of Edgar Wright’s films – and that has come about because we worked with him on Shaun of the Dead, a low budget indie film.”

So what next for Double Negative? Could a sale be on the cards? Hope says it is not a priority. “I don’t want to speculate. I can’t see myself ever doing anything apart from vfx, or working anywhere apart from Double Negative. He says the company’s focus is now on “what we want to achieve in this building and fulfilling the opportunities we have here.”

Alex Hope began his career at The Moving Picture Company, rising to board director (1996-1998) in charge 
of the FX and Animation departments.

1998 - left MPC to work as a vfx producer and founded Double Negative with five other colleagues.

2008 - became a board director of the UK Screen Association, and has been involved in efforts to improve the quality of education to those coming into the vfx industry.

2010 - the DCMS asked him to co-author 
a review of the skills needs of the vfx and video games Industries.

2011 - awarded an OBE for services to the vfx Industry.

Posted 27 March 2013 by Tim Dams

The rise and rise of comedy on television

If anyone doubts the power of comedy to attract viewers to the small screen, they should look 
at the viewing figures for Christmas 2012.

BBC1’s comedy juggernauts, Mrs Brown’s Boys and Miranda triumphed over the holiday season, beating the likes of Downton Abbey and EastEnders in the ratings with consolidated figures of just over 11.5m viewers each.

“Both are broad, mainstream hits – and are successful in a way that comedy hasn’t been for some time,” says Andrew Newman, chief executive of leading comedy indie Objective Productions.

Hits like Mrs Brown’s Boys and Miranda are also channel defining, which perhaps explains why all of the main broadcasters have been investing significantly in the genre over the past few years.

Sky has made huge waves in comedy, ploughing resources into the genre over the past three years. From a standing start it now has eight series – such as Stella and Trollied – on Sky1 alone, as well as significant commissions on Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts and Sky Living including the award-winning Hunderby.

Despite budget cuts, the BBC is commissioning comedy across all four of its channels, offering 
a broad range of fare from a family show like Miranda through to the subversive Cuckoo and 
the cerebral The Thick of It and Twenty Twelve.    

Channel 4 has upped its output since the demise of Big Brother, and is enjoying acclaim for the likes of Fresh Meat and Cardinal Burns. ITV is active in original comedy for the first time in years, building on its long running hit Benidorm with a string of new orders. Comedy Channel has commissioned 
a slate of original UK comedy, including Threesome and The Alternative Comedy Experience, as has UKTV with orders like the revival of Yes, Prime Minister and new shows such as Us and Them from Hat Trick.

Advertisers such as Fosters are also directly funding online comedy series such as Baby Cow’s Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge, which migrated onto Sky. Online platforms are also investing directly into UK comedy production, with Hulu co-producing BBC2’s The Wrong Mans, starring James Corden, and The Thick  of It. The demand for comedy has seen a swathe of new players enter the market, including drama producer Red (which is now producing shows for ITV and BBC2), alongside established comedy indies such as Hat Trick, Objective, Big Talk, Baby Cow and Rough Cut.

“It’s an incredibly healthy time for comedy. 
It can only be a positive thing that so many platforms are commissioning,” says ITV’s 
head of comedy Myfanwy Moore.

“There has never been a better time to be making scripted comedy,” adds former comedy commissioner Graham Smith of development consultancy Grand Scheme Media, who says that both distributors and brands are all keen to invest in the genre. He says that in return for £15-20k in development money, comedy can be a very good investment for a distributor – citing the fact that Sky1 comedy Spy has just been picked up for 
a remake by US network ABC. Brands are also keen to be associated with successful comedies, he adds, revealing that Grand Scheme is currently working on a scripted project that is backed by a well-known women’s magazine title.

“There are lots of creative ways a project can 
be put together. There are certainly more places 
to go for funding,” he says.


The genre has also been energised in recent months by the appointment of new comedy bosses at the two key broadcasters in the genre, the BBC and Channel 4. Shane Allen took over at the BBC three months ago from Cheryl Taylor, who has gone to head up CBBC. The former head of comedy at Channel 4, Allen himself was replaced by veteran comedy producer Phil Clarke from Objective Productions.

“Shane will definitely galvanise the BBC. He’s a respected figure, a funny man and people like dealing with him,” says Smith. “And although Phil has not been a commissioner, but he’s one of the most respected programme makers and will bring a new perspective for Channel 4. His appointment sends out a message that Channel 4 is still very serious about comedy.”

The comedy genre has not always been in such good health. Until only a few years ago, it was considered a market failure genre – something that most channels shied away from and that only the public service broadcasters could afford to invest in.

But now broadcasters very much recognise the value of comedy. Even though comedy is an expensive upfront investment, it can pay long-term dividends. As Friends proved, broadcasters can practically build a channel by repeating a hit comedy series. A successful comedy has a very long shelf life. Shows like Dad’s Army or Fawlty Towers can resonate not just across years, but decades.

Alongside sport and soaps, it’s arguably the genre that viewers feel most passionate about. “People who love a comedy show really love them – the depth of feeling is very profound,” says Newman. “But when you do a bad comedy, people go 
mental – you might as well have done a shit 
on their doorstep. It’s an affront to them.”

Indeed, he worries that the instant reaction today to shows via social media and the internet, while welcome, can also be harmful to emerging talent. “If The 11 O’Clock show was on now, it could be strangled at birth by Twitter and the internet forum lobby.” As a producer of the show, Newman says that the talent who got their first big break on 
The 11 O’Clock Show – Ali G, Leigh Francis, Mackenzie Crook and Ricky Gervais – “needed 
a bit of freedom to grow.”

However, this passion for shows means they 
can help the channels that commission them 
to stand out, in a way that ubiquitous and cheaper factual features cannot do. “Comedy can help digital channels – it can define them and make people take notice,” says Newman.

Amongst commissioners, the mainstream success of shows like Miranda and Mrs Brown’s Boys appears to have hit a nerve. Many now say they are looking to hit the jackpot with warm-hearted comedies with big laughs that play to a broad audience. This represents a distinct move away 
from the quieter, more finely observed single camera comedies of recent years.

However, producers are quick to warn against broadcasters simply trying to emulate last year’s hits. “Comedy is at its best when it’s somebody’s vision, very authored and distinctive – and not done cynically,” says Newman. As examples, he cites shows like Peep Show, Miranda, Harry Hill, Outnumbered, The Inbetweeners and work by Peter Kay.

It’s a point that new BBC1 comedy boss Shane Allen is mindful of. “If you try to repeat formulas, you come a cropper,” he says.

Three months into the job, he’s quick to pay tribute to the legacy left by his predecessor Cheryl Taylor who “left things in a brilliant state…we are in a real boom period and it is up to us – the new regime – to build on that.”

He breaks his priorities down by channel. On BBC1, citing The Royle Family and Outnumbered, he says, “there’s a question of how we can get a brilliant new single camera comedy.” And he pays tribute to Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown’s Boys. “It’s been said that his show is for the audience that comedy forgot. I love that quote. It’s a really old fashioned, joke filled comedy – and I’m all for more of that.”

Allen says he wants to bring a “bit more joy” 
to BBC2, which he notes won channel of the year and is “smashing things out of the box in every other genre.” Comedy, he thinks, has to try 
a bit harder. The output has been “quite quiet and moody” and as a result, he’s after a “few broader comedies” that are a “bit less melancholic.” Upcoming shows like James Corden’s The Wrong Mans and Graham Linehan and Steve Delaney’s Count Arthur Strong point the way, balancing more cerebral work by Stewart Lee and Charlie Brooker.

BBC3, says Allen, has got a proper focus and attitude when it comes to comedy under controller Zai Bennett. He thinks the channel is “gunning for Channel 4” – or at least the edgy, knowing space that C4 occupied ten years ago. As examples, he picks out new shows such as Bluestone 42 (a comedy about a bomb disposal squad in Afghanistan), Cuckoo and Bad Education.

BBC4 is still backing comedy despite cuts to its budget. The home of Twenty Twelve  and The Thick of   It, it’s just commissioned two new sitcoms: Up The Women, written by and starring Jessica Hynes and based on a 1910 Women’s Suffrage group, and Quick Cuts written by Georgia Pritchitt and starring Doon Mackichan and set in a hairdressing salon.

Meanwhile, Allen says he is launching a new scheme at the end of March to back comedy pilots that will premiere on iPlayer and then on BBC3. Allen says it will be ‘well funded, with proper opportunities’ and is designed to allow new talent the chance to ‘play and experiment’. “It’s really harsh to give them a six part series when they 
are in the infancy of their careers. You have 
to let them grow and learn their craft.”


Over at Sky, Lucy Lumsden is pressing on 
with the comedy revolution she initiated at the broadcaster when she arrived three years ago. 
Sky’s pledge to spend £600m on original content 
by 2014 has seen the broadcaster invest significantly in comedy.

In that time, a wave of new shows have hit the screen – such as Stella, Moone Boy, Trollied, Spy, Spa, Mount  Pleasant, Touch of  Cloth, Starlings, The Café, Mid-Morning Matters and Hunderby.

“It’s not been flash in the pan. We are here 
to stay, which is really reassuring for the industry,” 
says Lumsden. “We haven’t promised anything 
that we are not going to see through.”

Sky1 has seen many of its first run comedies recommissioned for a second series, such as Stella, The Café, Starlings, Touch of Cloth, Trollied and Moone Boy. Lumsden has also sought to make 
way for the new, such as Chickens, set in the 
First World War and co-written by and co-starring Inbetweeners’ stars Simon Bird and Joe Thomas. 
She picks out Moone  Boy, shot like an indie film, and Stella, which "does Wales on a big scale and is very warm and big hearted.” Looking ahead, Lumsden says she’d like to “inject a bit of silliness into what we are doing. I’m really keen to land an audience sitcom or two.”

Lumsden commissions across each of Sky’s four main TV channels. Female skewed Sky Living, which now airs four original series including Gates and The Spa, will see Love Matters, six one-off romantic comedies, debut this month. There’s room for an audience sitcom on the channel too, thinks Lumsden.

Sky Arts would like to develop a returnable series 
to complement its series of one of comedies and dramas that have aired in the Playhouse strand. 
Coming up is new series Psychobitches, which 
revolves around famous women from history being probed in a psychiatrist’s chair and features the likes of Catherine Tate, Sharon Horgan and Katy Brand. Lumsden says a physical or silent comedy could 
work on Sky Arts.

Sky Atlantic, meanwhile, has enjoyed success 
with Hunderby winning two of the top prizes – best sitcom and best new comedy show – at the British Comedy Awards. Lumsden says it is all about “keeping the standard high” on this “very curated” channel, which has aired Kathy Burke’s Walking And Talking and Alan Partridge: Welcome To The Places Of My Life.


ITV vowed last year to boost its comedy output, hiring Little Britain producer Myfanwy Moore as its first dedicated commissioning editor for comedy in nearly two years.

She says that ITV has a robust drama 
and entertainment brand – and it made sense 
for a “mainstream channel at the heart of popular culture” to build on its hit series Benidorm 
and be more active in the genre.

So far she has greenlit a handful of series: sitcom Vicious, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi as a bickering gay couple; Cabbage and Pat, a comedy about two older women who re-embrace life;  The Job Lot, set in a West Midlands job centre; and ancient Rome slave comedy Plebs for ITV2.

Moore says she does not have to commission 
a set number of shows, but rather will commission projects that are strong enough to sit alongside ITV’s well-established, big brands. “Our comedy must feel warm and inclusive for our audience.” They can, of course, have an edge to them. Vicious,
 she says, “is going to feel old fashioned at heart, 
but there’s something modern in the story.”

Moore adds that she hopes to have several shows on ITV2, and to increase the number of ITV1 series. She explains that she is particularly looking for half hour shows that can play pre-watershed at 8.30 
and at post watershed half hours too.

Shows do not necessarily have to come with 
big name talent attached, but it’s always helpful 
to have “marquee casting.”

As Televisual went to press, new Channel 4 head of comedy Phil Clarke had just joined the broadcaster. He declined to be interviewed, preferring to wait until he has feet under the table for a few months.

The big question is in what direction he will take the genre at Channel 4. Observers think that he may try to fit comedy into part of Channel 4’s broader strategy to become slightly more mainstream. One observer says: “I’m not saying that Channel 4 will try to recreate Miranda. But can Channel 4 do shows that have slightly more mainstream appeal, while still keeping the C4 element?”

The broadcaster came close to creating 
a returnable original domestic comedy in The IT Crowd, but its stars Richard Ayoade and Chris O’Dowd have moved conspicuously into the film world. This highlights a major issue for comedy on British television. As soon as talent becomes established, they move quickly on – whether to rival channels that have moved into the genre, to the US, to the movies, drama or for lucrative live tours.

There’s great competition for talent, which has driven up prices. On the plus side, though, the movement of talent means constant more openings for newcomers – who could become the Mirandas and Brendan O’Carrolls of tomorrow.

Posted 20 March 2013 by Tim Dams

The making of No Fire Zone: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

No Fire Zone: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields is, admits  director Callum Macrae, “very painful to watch.” 
The feature length film about the final bloody months 
of the Sri Lankan civil war in which an estimated 40,000 civilians died follows on from two earlier Channel 4 TV documentaries: Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields (2011) and Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished (2012).

Largely comprised of eye-witness footage, the film records the shelling of Tamil men, women and children, who are trapped by the fighting and are killed and wounded in their thousands. There is video of Sri Lankan soldiers executing several naked prisoners. There are accusations of widespread rape, supported by ‘trophy footage’ from Sri Lankan soldiers. And evidence is presented that the 12-year-old son of the feared Tamil rebel leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was executed by Sri Lankan forces.

The footage, says Macrae, goes far beyond the bounds of what audiences are used to seeing in a film because “we are trying to show that what went on was beyond the bounds of acceptability.”  He says that while the images from the final film are as “awful as anybody can cope with”, they are “not as awful as the rushes.”

Macrae says this documentary aims to be “the definitive film and call to action” about the impact on civilians of the conflict between Sri Lankan forces and Tamil fighters. The earlier films were aired in parliaments worldwide as well as the UN, and the team behind them was nominated for a Nobel Peace Price in 2012. But, as yet, nobody has been held responsible for the crimes. The Sri Lankan government is unrepentant, arguing that its actions led to the demise of the brutal Tamil Tigers.

Macrae says “reconciliation can’t happen without justice” and that the film is meant to help achieve this. It is being screened this month to diplomats during the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It will also show at international festivals in the build up to a summit of Commonwealth leaders in November, due to be held in the Sri Lankan capital.

Producer Zoe Sale says an exhaustive process of research has gone into making the film. Sale and Macrae both credit Channel 4 News for getting the ball rolling, when they originally decided to air footage they were receiving from inside Sri Lanka via a group called Journalists For Democracy at the end of the civil war.  After that initial story more and more footage arrived, which formed the basis of the original two C4 docs.

Sale says: “We had to forensically examine and catalogue hours of video evidence shot by the victims and perpetrators and piece together what each bit of film was telling us.  We had to establish the date and location of material – sometimes using metadata, other times landmarks, local knowledge or through translations.”

Sale adds that is was crucial to use the footage not as wallpaper but only as evidence; at the correct time, in the correct context. She says that the execution footage and photographs captured as trophy videos at the end of the war were analysed by digital specialists to ensure they had not been edited or manipulated and that the camera or phone was in keeping with the date they were taken.  Footage was also examined by a forensic pathologist.  “The UN has authenticated the execution images.  The Government of Sri Lanka however still claims that they are fake.”

The process of making the feature film was also different to the TV documentaries. Macrae says the film’s viewers will actively choose to see it and want to understand the subject. Television, by contrast, is still “defined by the notion that you don’t want people to get bored and go off and make a cup of tea. In a feature you can give more context, you can afford to go back into history. It makes a profound difference.”

As a result, the choice of material is very different. The first death to be shown is of an elderly man outside his village home, killed by a falling shell. The viewer sees confused villagers running around, trying to warn others that there may be more shells to come, while a woman frantically – even absurdly – tries to retrieve a bag of coconuts from the house. Macrae questioned whether he could afford a couple of minutes of screen time to show people running around. Certainly it would not have been possible in a tightly scheduled 
TV documentary. But the longer run time of the film allows it to be more observational and help viewers 
to identify with the people being filmed and what he calls their “accumulation of terror.”

After all, the fighting was “designed to cause terror and to kill civilians – with the strategic aim of destroying the support base of the Tigers.”

Macrae adds: “Our role is to present the evidence so that others can decide what has to be done. The one thing I’d say is that something has to be done, otherwise the ground is laid for history to repeat itself.”

No Fire Zone: 
Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields 
is a new feature length documentary about the bloody final months of the Sri Lankan civil war, the culmination of a three year investigation into the death of thousands of civiilians – based on video evidence filmed by the victims and perpetrators
Production company
Outsider Films
Channel 4, Britdoc, 
The Bertha Foundation, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Stichting Democratie en Media, Worldview, Envy, ITN
Director Callum Macrae
Producer Zoe Sale
Editor Michael Nollett
Original score Wayne Roberts
Cinematography Vaughan Matthews
Sound design Bob Jackson
Executive producers Dorothy Byrne, Chris Shaw, Sandra Whipham
Prod exec Selina Kay
Outreach producer Joanna Natasegara
Assistant editor Charlie Hawryliw
Post production Envy
Colourist Danny Wood
Post supervisors Pip Whittall, Jannine Martin, Edith Rivers, Louise Willis
Channel 4 lawyer Dominic C Harrison


Posted 19 March 2013 by Tim Dams

Are working conditions in factual TV a cause for concern?

Are the working conditions of production staff in factual television a cause for concern? In the wake of Bectu’s Say No To Exploitation in TV campaign, here are three opinions.

Martin Spence, Bectu
When the workforce is signalling in the clearest language that conditions are in need of urgent review we have to listen and, most importantly, the employers have to listen too. In our campaign survey several consistent and worrying themes were revealed. Here are just two: excessive hours without adequate rest time are an established feature of work in Factuals; and the workforce says that health and safety considerations are routinely brushed aside due to ‘lack of time’. These issues are genuine causes for concern and represent shortcomings which could prove costly to the employer if they are not addressed with proper regard for crew welfare.

Anonymous production worker
Limited budgets translate into tighter schedules. What ends up giving is our time – we simply work longer hours for the same fee and quality goes down. This overwork means that the boundaries between work and a personal life are weakened and our personal life suffers. Senior staff can often be dismissive of workforce concerns, not least about health and safety. It’s often the case that on a mixed staff/freelance crew, freelances can be treated shabbily. The employers at fault know that they are hiding behind the insecurity which staff, and in particular freelances, are made to feel. Relying on fear to run your business shouldn’t be a recipe for success.
Liz Warner, CEO, Betty
Working conditions in factual TV are getting tougher mainly due to broadcasters wanting more bang for their buck. Budgets haven’t increased for more than 10 years. 
In real terms budgets have gone down and the demands of the editorial specifications have gone up. Simultaneously, rates for top talent, editors and post production have gone up. Commissioning editors’ expectations more often than not exceed the price for their genre. The budget is the reality check no one wants to face. Factual, features and fact ent are depended upon as genres to bring in prime time ratings as a much cheaper option than drama or entertainment. Broadcasters and indies should be tackling this together to work on realistic budgets with realistic expectations. Indies could do more – by having whistle – blower schemes, for example. Betty has a monthly working group for staff to feedback and encourage a culture of reasonable hours but we know that when it is a shoot or the final week of an edit that extra hours will be incurred.
When money is tight it is often people that provide the elasticity – they stretch – often too far.  We all know we have to put in the hours but to start projects with that as the accepted norm is not healthy.  Bectu do have a point and indies are often too afraid to speak out for fear of losing a key relationship with a broadcaster so brokering a more open dialogue about some of the industry’s concerns is a good thing.

The issue will also be debated tonight at a Bectu debate, with execs including Lion TV’s Nick Catliff, The Garden’s Nick Curwin, Hardcash’s David Henshaw and Al Jazeera’s Diarmuid Jeffreys. Full details here.

Posted 18 March 2013 by Tim Dams

BBC Two dominates at Broadcasting Press Guild awards

BBC Two drama series Parade’s End has won four prizes at the 39th annual Broadcasting Press Guild Awards, voted for by journalists who write about TV and radio.

BBC Two also won four of the other awards, which are being presented today (Thursday) at a lunch in the Gladstone Library at One Whitehall Place in central London.

Benedict Cumberbatch was named best actor, for his roles as Christopher Tietjens in Parade’s End and Sherlock Holmes in BBC One’s Sherlock. Rebecca Hall was voted best actress for her role as Tietjens’ wife Sylvia, in the First World War drama.

Parade’s End also won the award for best drama series and the BPG writer’s award, which went to Sir Tom Stoppard, who adapted the novels by Ford Madox Ford. Cumberbatch, Hall and Stoppard are all due to attend the awards lunch, with executives from the BBC and Mammoth Screen, which produced the series.

The ITV documentary which exposed Jimmy Savile and helped plunge the BBC into crisis, won the award for best single documentary. Exposure: the Other Side of Jimmy Savile led to a national inquiry into child abuse and a chain of events that resulted in the departure of the BBC director-general George Entwistle.

John Humphrys, whose interview with Mr Entwistle on Radio 4’s Today was instrumental in the director-general’s resignation that evening, won the Harvey Lee Award for an outstanding contribution to broadcasting. Humphrys has been a BBC reporter, presenter and interviewer for more than 40 years, and the citation says “his tenacious interviewing of politicians and others in the news has made his name a byword for fearless inquisition.”

Humphry’s colleague Charlotte Green, who has stepped down after 25 years as a Radio 4 newsreader and announcer, was named radio broadcaster of the year. The award for best radio programme also went to Radio 4, for the series Soul Music which explores music with a powerful emotional impact.

Three awards marked the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. The BBC won the innovation award for its live and catch-up coverage of all 304 events at the Olympics, across multiple platforms and devices. Presenters Huw Edwards and Gabby Logan are due to attend the lunch and receive the award with senior BBC executives responsible for the output.

The BBC Two comedy series Twenty Twelve – showing how preparations for the Olympics could go horribly wrong, with what the judges called “an uncanny ability to predict real-life events” - won the best comedy/entertainment award.          

And Channel 4’s Adam Hills won the breakthrough award for his nightly Paralympics show, The Last Leg, which gave an alternative view of the day’s events.

BBC Two also won the awards for best single drama (The Hollow Crown: Richard II), best documentary series (Inside Claridge’s) and best factual entertainment (Great British Bake Off).

The multichannel award went to Dynamo: Magician Impossible, featuring Steve Frayne, on UKTV’s Watch channel.

The awards are sponsored by Discovery Channel which is part of Discovery Networks.

The invitation-only ceremony at One Whitehall Place is attended by the winners, BPG members and leading broadcasting executives.

Posted 14 March 2013 by Tim Dams

Interviews: 30 years in TV and film

Here are a series of interviews with leading industry figures that we published in the magazine to mark Televisual’s 30th birthday in December.

The likes of Jane Root, Mick Luckwell, Nik Powell, Jimmy Mulville, John Willis, Lorraine Heggessey, Steve Morrison and John Smithson reflect on their 30 years in the business – how they got to where they are now, what they’ve learned, what they been inspired by, their regrets and their predictions for the next 30 years.

It’s taken a while to publish the interviews online (it’s been a busy few months…). But hopefully you’ll agree they make a fascinating read.

Jane Root
Chief executive of Nutopia. Former controller of BBC2, president of Discovery Networks and 
co-founder of indie producer Wall to Wall

What were you doing 30 years ago?
I was a freelance journalist for women’s magazines like Cosmpolitan, 19 and Honey, and I worked for the BFI in their education department.
What is the best career decision you have made in the past 30 years?
I made two really big, bold moves, which were scary at the time. One was leaving Wall to Wall [the indie she founded] to go to the BBC. I knew that I really wanted to run a network and I had done ten years at Wall to Wall by that point. I thought if I didn’t move then I never would. The second one was to move to America and run the Discovery Channel after BBC2.
And your worst?
I always regret that I never managed to persuade Ricky Gervais to make more than 12 episodes of The Office.  I had lunches with Ricky and Stephen Marchant in every nice restaurant in London. They would always say, ‘we’ll think about it’.
What’s been the biggest change about the TV industry in the past 30 years?
The growth of the independent sector. And how global the TV industry has become.
The most significant event/s in the TV industry over the past 30 years?
The creation of BSkyB and the digital world. When I started working at BBC2, on a good night the channel would get 4-5m viewers. Those kind of numbers are extraordinary now. The sense of the audience changing is just huge.
Which programmes have had the biggest impact in the past 30 years?
There are some that stand out – like Tony Garnett’s This Life, Peter Bazalgette’s Changing Rooms, Brookside and The Office. In their wake came a whole load of other programmes like them.
The most influential person or people?
There are two men who I think have changed TV enormously: Alan Yentob and Michael Jackson. Alan Yentob really created the modern BBC2 and then the modern BBC1. He brought a sense of energy, connectedness, usefulness and ambition. Michael Jackson, at BBC2 and Channel 4, changed two networks in a huge way. Michael was the person who made C4 into a youth network which it hadn’t really been before. He aligned it with that demographic which it still holds in that way.
The most important technical advance/s?
The first documentary I was involved with, Open the Box, was shot on 16mm and that was how all docs got made. Then the next thing we made, The Media Show, was shot on video. The fact that you shot pretty standard TV programmes on 16mm and edited it on a Steambeck – that now feels like the olden days when people wore suits of armour. And I remember at Wall to Wall when we wanted to buy our first fax machine. Our head of production complained, saying ‘why can’t we just use motorbike messengers?’
Is the industry better or worse to work in now?
People work much harder now, but it is more fluid and open that it used to be. It used to be that directors were directors and mostly men. One thing that has changed enormously is the number of women in jobs. When I got the job of running BBC2, it was a news story that the BBC gave a woman a job to do. I did tons of TV and radio interviews – now it seems so bizarre that it was newsworthy.
Any predictions for the next 30 years?
You have to be very careful of predicting the end of television, which many people do. People predicted the end of movies and the end of radio, but all of those co-exist together. I think you will see TV co-existing with digital. You won’t see the end of it. It would be out of sync with what has happened with the media industry of the last 100 years. Forms don’t die – they co-exist with other forms. And then they change and grow.

Mike Luckwell
Founder of MPC in 1970, former md and largest shareholder in Carlton Television, and major investor in media companies such as WPP and Hit Entertainment. Chairman of Ignenious Media Active Capital

What were you doing 30 years ago?
Getting The Moving Picture Company, at that time both an independent producer and video facility, ready to go public.
What is the best career decision you have made in the past 30 years?
Staying to work predominantly in the UK rather than moving full time to the US, tempting though that was on a number of occasions.
And your worst?
No regrets! I have loved every minute of the last 30 years of television. Every day has brought something new, exciting, fascinating and rewarding.
What’s been the biggest change about the TV industry in the past 30 years?
The tremendous impact of digital technology on every aspect of television and the industry at last becoming more businesslike in its approach.
The most significant event/s in the TV industry over the past 30 years?
The move from, to all effects, TV monopolies to robust and dynamic diversity.
Which programmes have had the biggest impact in the past 30 years?
Those that have made the powerful accountable.
The most influential person or people?
Too hard to call with so many people, and such diversity of ability, emerging.
The most important technical advance/s?
The revolutionary impact of the constant reduction in equipment costs putting TV production tools, even mobiles, combined with internet dissemination, in the hands of an ever expanding pool of new talent.
Is the industry better or worse to work in now?
Better, and more professional, but more competitive and more challenging – both for individuals and corporations.
Any predictions for the next 30 years?
A continuing trend to an ever broadening dissemination of television. New interpretations of the meaning of ‘television broadcaster’ with multiple categories of company entering that arena. An increasing trend to innovative low cost production in parallel with an increase in, and broadened applications for, sophisticated ‘artificially created images’ (CGI). Increased censorship whilst press, internet and TV regulation are aligned. Hugely increased involvement by both advertisers, and new audience aggregators, in all aspects of production and distribution. A diminution in the importance of conventional television, as we have known it for the last 30 years, as the integration of television with other media and cross platform video exploitation inexorably increases. Sadly - increased internationalisation of television will lead to a reduction in the importance of UK television on the world stage. Emergent challenges at every level of television from China and India.

Nik Powell
Director of the National Film and Television School. Co-founder of Virgin Group. Founder of Palace Pictures (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game) and Scala Pictures (Fever Pitch, Ladies in Lavender).

What were you doing 30 years ago?
I was selling out of Virgin and getting married to a sixties pop singer and having my first child. I was moving from the rock ’n’ roll business to the moving image business. With my then partner Stephen Woolley I was starting Palace Pictures, Palace Video, The Video Place and PVG, a joint company with Virgin. We were signing the video cassette rights to famous television series like Coronation Street, the rights to Thriller and to films like The Evil Dead and Diva as well as talking to Channel 4 about making our first film Neil Jordan’s Company of Wolves which was then made by ITC and sold back to the channel! Their support was crucial. Times they certainly were a changing!
What is the best career decision you have made in the past 30 years? 
To go into partnership with producer Stephen Woolley.
And your worst?
To not utilise the £1m overdraft facility I had negotiated with Barclays in 1990 so they could withdraw it when the 1991 recession struck. Had I been using it, they would not have been able to. This led directly to the bankruptcy of Palace. The subsequent mega success of our own production Crying Game and the subsequent success of titles we had signed to distribute like Reservoir Dogs, Howards End and others showed we would have survived if I had managed to stop the overdraft facility being cancelled.
What’s been the biggest change about the TV industry in the past 30 years?
Golly so many! The two biggest must be the advent of Channel 4 and Sky and satellite TV in the 80s and the pervasive digitalisation of the airwaves in the noughties.
Which programmes have had the biggest impact in the past 30 years?
I suppose we have to say Big Brother, but the lasting impact of the Pythons on the last 30 years of TV is incalculable even though they started in the seventies.
The most influential person or people?
The Pythons! And under the heading, ‘he would say that wouldn’t he,’ I would have to say NFTS graduates for their demonstrable impact populating the television schedules in every role from show creators, show writers, show directors and every other major role on British productions from editing and sound to production design and effects and everything in between!
Is the industry better or worse to work in now?
It’s just as great and just as galling as its ever been. Never a dull moment.
Any predictions for the next 30 years?
God laughs at those who…

Jimmy Mulville
Co-founder and chief executive of Hat Trick Productions

What were you doing 30 years ago?
I was producing Alas Smith and Jones and about to do Who Dares Wins on Channel 4.
What is the best career decision you have made in the past 30 years?
Setting up Hat Trick Productions.
And your worst?
Selling half of it to an investment bank (before buying it back again in 2009).
What’s been the biggest change about the TV industry in the past 30 years?
The establishment of the indie production sector as the creative engine of the TV industry.
The most significant event/s in the TV industry over the past 30 years?
The creation of Channel 4 in the early ‘80 s which crucially broke the duality of ITV and the BBC and created an explosion in the indie production sector.
Which programmes have had the biggest impact in the past 30 years?
For good and for bad – Big Brother.
The most influential person or people?
30 years ago you would’ve answered this question with a name of someone who was working in the big broadcasters but sadly for them this is no longer the case.  It would be invidious to name one but there are many highly innovative entrepreneurial figures now working in the industry who can lay claim to being one of the architects of modern television.
The most important technical advance/s?
Globally, the Internet. Selfishly, Sky Plus.
Is the industry better or worse to work in now?
It depends on where you’re sitting.  If you’re a creative talent, it’s much better than when the TV world was a feudal system back in the early ‘80s.  However, if you’re working in one of the larger media institutions, I would think you’re constantly looking out of the window into the middle distance remembering the good old days.
Any predictions for the next 30 years?
Yes, it’ll be nothing like the way people who spout on panels at the Edinburgh TV Festival predict it will be.

John Willis
Chief executive, Mentorn Media and chairman of Bafta. Former BBC head of factual and learning; WGBH Boston vice president national programmes; chief executive of United Productions; director of programmes at Channel 4; Yorkshire Television controller of documentaries and current affairs

What were you doing 30 years ago?
I had just completed my epic two hour  asbestos documentary Alice – A Fight for Life. Then I was moving onto series editing for a 1983 tx the new documentary series First Tuesday at Yorkshire TV where I was head of documentaries and current affairs.
What is the best career decision you have made in the past 30 years?
To move to Channel 4 in 1988 as controller of factual programmes from Yorkshire Television where I had been very happy. It was an incredibly difficult decision.
And your worst?
When Granada bought United News and Media I chose to go with my creative team to Granada rather than take up an interesting senior role at the BBC. Loyalty overtook good sense and an unhappy year later I left Granada to work in the USA.
What’s been the biggest change about the TV industry in the past 30 years?
The greatest influence has been Channel 4 because it created an  unstoppable wave of independent producers which changed the shape of our industry for ever. More than that, C4 through its diverse range of programmes has significantly influenced social attitudes, eg Brookside’s lesbian kiss..
The most significant event/s in the TV industry over the past 30 years?
Seeing wars, revolutions,and global disasters close up and in real time. Iraq, Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the Asian tsunami etc more or less as they happened and in real time. OBs from the frontline which shaped the understanding and perceptions of viewers very rapidly.
Which programmes have had the biggest impact in the past 30 years?
Big Brother. Teletubbies. The Simpsons. Blackadder.
The most influential person or people?
The biggest influence on me was Tony Garnett, the legendary drama producer. Growing up his Plays for Today with people like Ken Loach and Jim Allen made me realise that television can aspire to do great things and should never sell itself short. Tony unwaveringly believed in attracting audiences ‘the hard way’, with imagination and quality rather than cheap tricks.
The most important technical advance/s?
It has to be the rise of the internet.
Is the industry better or worse to work in now?
There is no point in looking back to some apparent golden age. It was just a different age. Television for me has so many fresh opportunities – new channels, global horizons, interactivity – that it is as exciting to work in now as at any time.
Any predictions for the next 30 years?
Mad to predict anything. No one had heard of Twitter a few years ago, so a thirty year horizon is unimaginable given the speed of change. But, whatever happens in terms of technology, the power of narrative and the human need to relate to individual characters and their lives will still be very strong in thirty years time however we watch TV or whatever it is then called.

Lorraine Heggessey

Executive chair, Boom Pictures. Former controller of BBC1 and chief executive of TalkbackThames

What were you doing 30 years ago?
I had just moved to Panorama from Newsnight.  I was the only assistant producer on the programme and everyone seemed very grand and intimidating!  The Falklands War was the big story that year.
What is the best career decision you have made in the past 30 years?
Taking the role of controller of BBC 1 – it was a fantastic job and my brief was to overhaul the channel so we made several dramatic changes including moving the news from 9pm to 10pm, introducing a fourth EastEnders, and scrapping the balloon idents and replacing them with the dancers.  The BBC decided to reinvest in BBC1 which was starting to look weak and tired through lack of funding, so we were able to launch lots of new programmes including Dr Who, Spooks and Strictly Come Dancing.
And your worst?
Taking the role of deputy chief executive of BBC Production. It wasn’t my kind of job – hard work, but a thankless task sitting in endless meetings mostly dealing with internal strife and not feeling like I was achieving very much.
What’s been the biggest change about the TV industry in the past 30 years?
I have seen so many changes it’s hard to say.  Digital technology has changed the industry beyond recognition. When I started even news was shot on film (reversal) and the video machines were for 2inch tape which you couldn’t fast forward in vision. Our play-in logs on Newsnight had to be very precise! Graphics were animated by pulling strips of cardboard manually and the names on maps had to be done with letraset!  I know, I know – it sounds like the stone age.
The most significant event/s in the TV industry over the past 30 years?
The launch of Channel 4 and creation of the independent production sector
Which programmes have had the biggest impact in the past 30 years?
That’s hard as there are so many – but Roger Graef’s Police series on Thames Valley police, which was made 30 years ago is hard to beat for the impact it had in changing attitudes to rape victims. In entertainment, Celador’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire? breathed new life into the quiz show and showed the UK could create global hits – and that they could come from an indie. Paul Smith’s determination to make this happen was admirable. In drama, Denis Potter’s Singing Detective remains up there as a trailblazing creatively ambitious work.
The most influential person or people?
Michael Grade has to be up there – he’s had so many influential roles. His charisma and passion are always inspiring. Rupert Murdoch for proving multi-channel TV could be a sustainable business in the UK
The most important technical advance/s?
The new wave of interactivity from second screens is opening up so many possibilities.
Is the industry better or worse to work in now?
I think it’s always been a great place to work.  There are definitely more opportunities now – when I started the BBC and ITV were the only employers in town. Now there are hundreds of channels  and production companies to work for in addition to lots of jobs in the digital space doing everything from designing apps to platforms.
Any predictions for the next 30 years?
Experience has told me that whatever I say will probably be proven wrong, but I believe content will reign supreme however it is delivered.

Steve Morrison
Chairman of All3Media. Former chief executive of Granada plc, director of programmes at Granada Television and founder of Granada Film

What were you doing 30 years ago?
I was On the Road to 1984 and the Spanish Civil War and driving Granada mad to let us start Granada Film!
What is the best career decision you have made in the past 30 years?
Starting All3Media with Jules Burns and David Liddiment. Now I’m pleased to say we are enhanced by our new chief executive, Farah Ramzan Golant and our excellent group team of Adam Jones, Jane Turton, Andy Taylor and Louise Pedersen and of course all of our terrific production companies. We celebrate our 10th anniversary this year.
And your worst?
Turning down 911 which became 999
What’s been the biggest change about the TV industry in the past 30 years?
First pay-TV, then digital
The most significant event/s in the TV industry over the past 30 years?
The start of Sky
Which programmes have had the biggest impact in the past 30 years?
Formatted talent shows, fifty shades of reality
The most influential person or people?
David Plowright, md of Granada TV;  Colin Young, first director of the National Film School
The most important technical advance/s?
PVR, iPlayer, smartphones
Is the industry better or worse to work in now?
Any predictions for the next 30 years?

There’ll still be a BBC – in the good hands of 
Tony Hall

John Smithson 

Co-founder of Arrow Media; former chief executive of indie producer Darlow Smithson

What were you doing 30 years ago?
Having fun on World in Action. Working on great stories, travelling the world and not worrying about programme budgets
What is the best career decision you have made in the past 30 years?
Entering the brave new world (it was then) of independent production
And your worst?
In this business I only look forward, not back, although there are a few programmes I wish I had never taken on
What’s been the biggest change about the TV industry in the past 30 years?
The rise of the independent sector and the resulting change in our ecosystem
The most significant event/s in the TV industry over the past 30 years?
The growing global appetite for high end factual programming guarantees the genre will prosper and not be displaced by low-rent reality shows
Which programmes have had the biggest impact in the past 30 years?
Those unmissable live events that unite the nation, from 9/11 and the death of Princess Diana, to the London Olympics and those live Saturday night entertainment shows
The most influential person or people?
Those visionary and inspiring individuals who have been prepared to take a chance on me at various points in my career
The most important technical advance/s?
The digital revolution – from research to delivery everything has changed about how we work, and for the better
Is the industry better or worse to work in now?
Undoubtedly better. Talent has never been more rewarded – creatively and commercially
Any predictions for the next 30 years?
Whatever the distribution platform, nothing will beat the power of a good story

Posted 13 March 2013 by Tim Dams

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Posted 12 March 2013 by Tim Dams
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