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Interview: Susanna Dinnage, Discovery Networks UK

Discovery Communications’ growth has – until recently – seemed assured. The factual outfit has expanded around the world in 30 years, reaching 220 countries and territories. Over half its $6,265m revenues come from its international networks.

The UK is one of the key hubs in its global empire. Based out of offices in a Chiswick business park – appropriately next to an (artificial) lake and waterfall – the UK operation employs some 1,200 staff.

The office is home to Discovery’s 13 UK channels, as well as its international production arm DNI Productions. Discovery’s UK reach also comprises superindie group, All3Media, which it co-acquired last year with Liberty Global. It’s a major commissioner in the UK too, ordering shows from some 78 UK indies over the past year.

Highlighting Discovery’s UK ambitions, the broadcaster has also been reported as a bidder for C5 and the Premier League rights. It also took a controlling interesting in Eurosport last year.

Back home in the US, however, there hasn’t been so much good news for Discovery. Weak US ratings and falling ad revenue, and the fear that smaller TV networks like Discovery look vulnerable in negotiations with pay-TV providers, have taken their toll on Discovery’s share price – which has fallen more than 30% in the past six months.

As a result, there’s a sense that things are changing at Discovery. Newly installed Discovery Channel president Rich Ross spoke in January about diversifying the broadcaster’s male-centric audience and returning to its roots in documentary, after criticism for shows like Eaten Alive and Megalodon.

The word diversification also crops up frequently in conversation with Susanna Dinnage, the managing director of Discovery Networks UK  & Ireland.

“At heart we are a pay factual business, we always have been. But a lot of the growth has been from diversifying into entertainment and now sport. We have three very strong prongs to our genre offering.”

The Discovery Channel, of course, lies at the heart of its factual offer. The average age of a viewer is early 40s. About 70% are men, the vast majority married with kids. The most insightful stat about ‘Discovery Man’, says Dinnage, is that he is four times more likely than the average person to have had a motorbike when young. He’s now traded this for a family car.

Discovery’s entertainment ambitions have focused on female focused TLC, which launched here in 2013 and have broadened out the broadcaster from its male heartland with UK commissions like Katie Hopkins: My Fat Body alongside US imports such as Say Yes to the Dress and Cake Boss.

Discovery also has plans for Eurosport. The channel was linked with a bid for the Premier League rights, although Dinnage won’t comment on this. She says the strategy is to emulate Discovery’s international model of repackaging global content alongside some local commissions. It is early days, but she acknowledges that “we need to add fantastically locally relevant sports rights” to the Eurosport offering.

On channels like Discovery and TLC, Dinnage says the ‘sweet spot’ is finding shows that men and women can watch together.

Men, she notes, often struggle to take charge of the remote in a family home – so for Discovery Channel to build audience numbers, the emphasis is on commissions that men can happily bring their partners to watch.

“Co-viewing is really, really important,” she says. “If you want scale, you have to be careful about how niche you get.” The plan is to make the channel broader in appeal, aimed more at the family audience.

However, she plays down any sense of radical change, stressing evolution over revolution. She thinks Rich Ross will pull factual back to the Discovery core of “absolutely authentic, great stories and strong characters.” By way of example, she cites upcoming natural history series To Be King, which follows a pride of lions over 16 years.

But, in the UK, Discovery faces challenges from broadcasters like ITV and C4 which have moved into the adventure genre to attract male viewers. Discovery face Bear Grylls, for example, launched Mission Survive on ITV last month. Dinnage admits it is tough holding on to talent in such a competitive market. However, she cites Ed Stafford, who is making his fourth series for Discovery. Audiences, she says, respond to his authenticity. Other commissions include Hugh Dennis’ Churchill and Me.

It’s clear that Discovery isn’t content to stick just to factual pay-TV. With live TV viewing under threat from VoD and streaming, there is a sense that Discovery is positioning itself – through its production operations as well as sport and entertainment ambitions – for the new era of TV. Says Dinnage: “As an organisation, we don’t sit still…We look at every opportunity, we have huge ambitions for the UK.”

CV: Susanna Dinnage
Susanna Dinnage heads up Discovery Networks in the UK and Ireland, managing the region’s porfolio of 13 channels including Discovery Channel, TLC, Quest, ID, Animal Planet and Eurosport. Dinnage joined Discovery in 2009 and was promoted to the role of UK business head in October 2010, responsible for the company’s growth strategy for its largest market outside the US. Before joining Discovery, Dinnage was part of the launch team for Channel 5, Fiver and Five US over a ten year spell. She began her career at MTV Networks, specialising in audience insight.

Posted 24 March 2015 by Tim Dams

True Vision: a singular indie producer

Doc indie True Vision has had four single films on air this month. Founder Brian Woods talks with Tim Dams about keeping overheads low so it can produce ‘films that make a difference’

True Vision is, in the words of founder Brian Woods, a “highly unusual” business. The renowned doc indie, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, made its name with hard-hitting, revelatory films like The Dying Rooms and China’s Stolen Children. But, compared to other indies, True Vision stands out for producing almost entirely one-off films. It has only made one three-parter, C4’s 15,000 Kids and Counting, and one two-parter, BBC3’s Growing Up Poor.

Among indies, it is commonly accepted that it’s almost impossible to sustain a company by making single docs. They make little money and take up huge amounts of exec time, while series afford greater stability and revenues.

True Vision has just been through a busy period, delivering eight singles between October and March. Four have been onscreen this month: BBC1’s No Place to Call Home, on homelessness; BBC2’s Surviving Sandy Hook, about the 2012 school massacre in Connecticut; BBC1’s Kids in Camps, on refugee camps in South Sudan (pictured above); and ITV1’s Raining in my Heart, about children with cancer (pictured below).

“It’s not a conscious decision to only go out to make singles,” says Woods, who runs True Vision with his wife Deborah Shipley and filmmaker Jezza Neumann. “But we are very clear that we want to make films that have a social impact. And that has consequences – on the whole broadcasters don’t want a whole series of those.”

True Vision keeps overheads low. About one third of Woods and Shipley’s Chiswick home is given over to office space for True Vision (pictrued below). All its editing, grading and sound is done there, while a cabin in the garden acts as the meeting room. True Vision also buys rather than hires its own cameras.

This cost-conciousness doesn’t affect creativity, argues Woods, who points out that it’s not always important to use top of the range kit. For example, Neumann won an RTS Craft Award for factual photography for America’s Poor Kids – shot on a Sony PMW 200 and Canon 60D. “Our experience is that what you point the camera at is actually more important than the bit of kit you are using."

Woods and Neumann also shoot and edit their films, while APs are also trained up to be self-shooters. It often takes True Vision months or years to gain access to the people and institutions in its docs, so filming is done by those who have built up the trust and rapport with the contributors.

There are ten staff at True Vision, which can rise to two dozen depending on the films in production. Woods describes it as ‘very much a family business’ with a ‘fantastic team’ who are in tune with its ethos of producing films that make a difference.

True Vision, for example, runs its own trust, The Aletheia Foundation, set up to support the contributors to its films. It all started in the wake of The Dying Rooms, when £500k in unsolicited donations poured in from shocked viewers to help children in Chinese orphanages.

“When the stories of our contributors evoke a strong emotional response in viewers, and the viewers want to help those families, my feeling is that we have a duty to facilitate that if we can – and not just to say we are filmmakers, we can’t help.”

Woods cites the case of one of the kids, Obert, who featured in Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children. A bright child, he was filmed panning for gold but ‘essentially almost starving to death’ and could not afford to go to school. Now, as a direct result of viewer contributions, he has had his schooling paid for and has just achieved 11 GSCEs.

Producing films that make such an impact is ‘kind of addictive’, says Woods. And it’s a good time for documentary makers, with the BBC, ITV and C4 supportive of the genre. But, he adds, “I’d like to develop more series to give us more stability.”

Posted 23 March 2015 by Tim Dams

From Mr Bean to the Clangers: the UK gets animated again

From Mr Bean to The Clangers, a swathe of animations are now being made in the UK. Tim Dams on the decline and rise again of an industry

Just a few years ago, the mood within the tight-knit UK animation sector was grim. Broadcasters had cut back on commissioning and slashed budgets as a result of the economic downturn. The costly, labour intensive nature of animation also meant production was heading off shore to rival territories offering incentives, like Canada, France or Singapore.

In response, the industry fought back with a lauded lobbying campaign for an animation tax credit led by Animation UK. It worked, with Chancellor George Osborne famously announcing in his 2012 Budget that he was determined to keep Wallace and Gromit in the UK.

Now, nearly two years since the tax credit was introduced in April 2013, the animation sector has rediscovered its mojo. From The Clangers to Mr Bean, there’s a swathe of shows in production in the UK.

“The industry is in the best shape it has been in for a number of years,” says Pact senior policy consultant Rosina Robson, who oversees children’s TV and animation at the producers’ alliance.

A recent Olsberg SPI and Nordicity report on the impact of tax credits said animation production spend had risen from £46m in 2011 to £51.7m in the first year of the tax credit, 2013-14 – a rise of 11%. This included £43.9m on domestic UK production and co-pros, and £7.8m from inward investment production.

Animation producers certainly back up the official figures. Collingwood & Co boss Tony Collingwood describes the tax credit as a “life line” for the sector. He recalls that many in the industry were in a state of despair before April 2013 as they struggled to get shows fully financed.

“It has really set the whole animation industry alight,” adds Factory managing director Phil Chalk. Based in studios in Altrincham, Factory has, in less than two years, gone from making a single project to now producing five. These include 52 new episodes of The Clangers for CBeebies and Coolabi and six episodes of new satirical show Newzoids for ITV. As a result, Factory’s staffing levels have increased from 30 to 125 people.

Boosted by the 20% tax credit, a swathe of shows across the industry suddenly went into production after April 2013 – including Collingwood & Co’s Ruff-Ruff, Tweet & Dave. “It would not be in production if it were not for the tax credit,” says Collingwood. Ruff-Ruff Tweet & Dave is a co-pro for CBeebies and Sprout. “A lot of the CGI is being done in Singapore, but there is a crew of 20 people inhouse and outhouse in the UK who wouldn’t be employed if it hadn’t had happened,” he adds. “It’s a win win for the the government and industry across the board.” Collingwood & Co is now in development on new show Thorgar, and is planning to animate the entire series in England – employing some 40 people.

The tax credits, say producers, have finally put the UK on a level playing field with rival countries. US broadcasters, in particular, are chosing to invest in shows made by the strong pool of talent in the UK.

By way of example, Phil Chalk cites Scream Street, a 52x11-min series for CBBC and Coolabi. It took almost three years to pull together the financing, with the tax credit providing a vital fillip. “The tax credit helped enormously – it gives all investors confidence. It is often the last 20-25% of a production budget that is the most difficult to find.”

Meanwhile, Tiger Aspect is 18 months into the production of a new animated series of Mr Bean. Ten years ago, the original series of Mr Bean was farmed out to Hungary. Now a team of 50 is animating the series in Tiger Aspect’s office in Shepherd’s Bush.

Tom Beattie, head of Tiger Aspect’s animation department, thinks that making the show in the UK has improved its quality. “There’s not the hassle of directing by email,” says Beattie, who adds that directing teams of animators based abroad can be a false economy. “What you get back is not what you asked for. Then you’ve got to redo things and there may be extra charges ” says Beattie. “You’re fighting backwards and forwards and you end up with a middle ground of what you can both achieve for the agreed price.” With a UK team, things can even be changed and added in the edit because all the creators are in the same room.

Many of Tiger Aspect’s animation team have been trained up in CelAction, the 2d animation software favoured by UK animators. The ambition now, says Beattie, is to keep them together to work on an adaptation of Aliens Love Underpants.

Elsewhere, vfx company Jellyfish has responded to the upswing in production by setting up an animation studio in Brixton, where it is working on Floogals, produced by The Foundation/NeVision for Sprout. The 52x11-min series is a mixture of CGI and live action. It’s also making Amazon preschool pilot Buddy: Tech Detective – also with The Foundation.

Jellyfish CEO Phil Dobree says the animation studio now has 35 staff. “We are investing a lot in people because what we have noticed is that the art of traditional kids animation, which the UK used to be so strong at, has been lost as animation work has been almost entirely done in overseas territories. The people coming out of film school tend to be trained to do photo real animation – useful in feature films – but we want to get them up to speed with kids animation techniques.”

There was a concern that the sudden glut of animation projects would create a buyers market for animators, inflating prices. But that hasn’t happened, says Collingwood. He says Creative Skillset’s Skills Investment Fund, which collects a levy of 0.5% of production spend for shows that access the tax credit, has been put to good use to train people in CelAction.

The biggest problem is that the number of UK broadcasters commissioning animation remains small, with the BBC the key investor. CBeebies and CBBC are the first port of call for indies in the UK, but their budgets have been dropped since the licence fee settlement in 2010. “Hopefully, the animation tax break will encourage the others,” says Collingwood.

It is, however, possible that other UK broadcasters will start to commission more animation.

The new tax break for live action children’s TV is set to come into force from April, and will mirror that for animation with the relief available at a rate of 25% on qualifying production expenditure.

And this week Pact and the Ragdoll Foundation launched a campaign to to improve availability of good quality TV programmes for children.

Spend and hours of original content across the PSB channels have plummeted over the last decade, according to a report prepared for the campaign. It found that spend on PSB children’s content  has fallen by 95% since 2003, and the volume of PSB children’s content (first run hours) has fallen by 68% since 2003.

The report set out options for improvement which include a return to PSB quotas for original children’s programming.

The campaign, coupled with the children’s tax credit, could provide a spur for  greater investment in kids’ television – which could have a further positive knock on effect for an already busy animation industry.

Facts and figures from the animation world

- The UK animation production sector remains relatively small. Production 
expenditure on animation was £51.7m in 2013-14, supporting 1,100 full time 
equivalent jobs.*

- 22 animation productions began principal photography in 2014. 16 of these were domestic productions, the remainder inward investment productions. These include new series of CBeebies’ Sarah & Duck, produced by Karrot 
Entertainment; Toot the Tiny Tug Boat from Lupus Films for C5’s Milkshake; and One Night in Hell, Queen guitarist Brian May’s animation for Sky Arts.

- Six new CBeebies animated series came to fruition in 2014, largely thanks to the tax credit - including Pesky Productions’ Boj and Studio AKA’s Hey Duggee.

- The average full time salary in the animation industry is £31,772

- The median budget per minute of UK animations applying for tax credit cultural certification is £8,202. For co-productions, the budget per minute is £5,665.

- The UK has a long tradition of creating successful animation programmes such as Wallace and Gromit, Bob the Builder, Thomas and Friends and Peppa Pig.

- The sale of licenced merchandise from UK animation brands, such as Peppa Pig and Thomas and Friends, was worth an estimated £500m in 2013.

- The total economic contribution of the UK animation sector to the UK economy was £171m, supporting 4,700 full time jobs and generating £52m in tax revenues.

- The live action children’s tax credit was announced in the Chancellor’s autumn statement last year, and is expected to come into force in April.                   

*Figures from the Economic Contribution of the UK’s Film, High-end TV, Video Games and Animation Programme Sectors, produced by Olsberg SPI and Nordicity

Posted 20 March 2015 by Tim Dams

Factual producers go on a big adventure

Several recent shows hint at a fresh direction for factual entertainment and features. But can they deliver the next big turn of the wheel for the genre?

Authenticity. If there is one buzzword doing the rounds among TV producers when describing the key characteristics of successful new factual shows, this is the one.

The Island, Walking the Nile, Eat Well for Less and Our Guy in India are all cited as some of the most talked about new programmes in the genre – ones that may hint at new directions just as rig shows like Gogglebox or Educating Yorkshire did a few years ago.

In each case, the premise of the show is relatively simple, but very well executed. Any formatting is worn lightly, with very little producer intervention to raise the stakes.

“The one word that sticks out at the moment is authenticity,” says Andrew Mackenzie, chief creative officer at Twofour Group (Educating the East End, The Jump). “The things that aren’t working are when TV producers stick their oar in to make a horrible format.”

The premise of The Island, for example, was simple. Bear Grylls drops 13 men on a remote, uninhabited Pacific island for a month to see if they can survive. Beyond this clever top line, it was almost formless underneath – allowed to play out like a very real experiment. For much of the time, very little happened. To viewers, it felt real and authentic.

Our Guy in India and Walking the Nile, meanwhile, were almost like detective stories. Passionate, expert talent, in the form Guy Martin and Levinson Wood, explored India or the Nile naturally, in depth and in their own time on camera. They experienced and learnt from their environment, and conveyed this to the viewers. 

Over 2m tuned in to watch Walking the Nile – a remarkable feat for a factual series about a man walking through large, empty swathes of the Sudan. “It felt very real, sweaty, dirty, thirsty and horrible,” says Patrick Holland md of Boundless (The Apprentice, Grand Designs), rather than a “rubbishy con where everything was over-egged all the time.”

Holland says audiences want to watch original, authentic experiences – rather than tightly formatted, ‘fish out of water’ shows that claim to transform participants’ lives in a cursory week long shoot. 

Viewers want more than formatted TV’s obvious narrative arcs, transformations and resolutions. “The audience has got wise to the empty lies of transformation,” he says. 

Boundless recently made BBC3’s World’s Toughest Jobs, which followed hard-up young Brits find well paid employment in some of the world’s hardest jobs. Each episode was filmed over a month, and the experiences of the participants could – financially at least – have a tangible impact on their lives. The format, says Holland, was merely a framework from which to follow their story in an ob doc style. “Absolutely central to it is that these are real jobs, they get paid real money. The audience doesn’t just think it is a bit of telly putting people over predictable hurdles.”

“The push for authenticity is the key driver at the moment,” confirms Jess Fowle, creative director at True North (Building the Dream, Animal SOS). However, she adds that ‘format’ isn’t quite the dirty word that it was a few years ago. But it has to be worn lightly and sit around the outside of the show, while everything within feels real and unmediated. 

Viewers, she says, want to be immersed in the subject rather than the rules of the format. “People don’t want to be watching a show and thinking, ‘Now we’re coming up for the ad break so this is where X has to happen’. They want to watch for brilliant characters rather than the rules of the game. People don’t want to be told what to do.”

This ties in to another key trend in factual TV, says Fowle – the move away from the expert telling people what to do. It’s no longer enough for presenters to be filmed walking up someone’s garden path, knocking on their door and to start wagging their finger.

“There’s less talk about know-it-all TV,” confirms Neil Smith, creative director at Betty (Bear Grylls: Mission Survive, The Undateables). He says there is still a demand for experts to front shows, but the experts have to go on a journey – and to extend their own knowledge through their experiences. 

The popularity of Guy Martin’s shows is a perfect example of this, says Smith. “Expertise is still very important. But we want our experts to stop telling us what to do. We want to learn something with them.”

Presenter and producer Henry Cole (The Motorbike Show, World’s Greatest Motorbike Rides) of HCA Productions in many ways sums up this trend for the expert to go on an authentic journey. 

Cole, who also runs a business making custom-made British motorbikes in Oxfordshire, has journeyed around the world for his Travel Channel series The World’s Greatest Motorbike Rides. 

Cole says audience demand for authenticity means that presenters really have to be seen to be living the experience, often at considerable risk to themselves. “An element of danger is now an imperative,” he says. 

Presenters, he adds, need to be authentic too.

Cole says audiences have to believe that a person presenting a show “is living that life and would do what he does whether the camera is on or not. There is no point in having a TV presenter who is just a TV presenter.” 

HCA is currently producing Shed and Buried for ITV4 and Travel Channel, which sees Cole and specialist helper Sam Lovegrove scour the nations sheds to find, buy, restore and sell on old cars and bikes. Tellingly, Cole is risking his own money, rather than any production budget, to trade the cars and bikes – proving very directly that the demand for authenticity now extends to financial as well as physical input too.

Shed and Buried is one of a host of new shows coming to air that are aimed at a male-skewing audience. “There is a new audience being understood by broadcasters – the intelligent male audience,” says Cole.

Indeed, there is a sense that broadcasters are waking up to the potential of appealing to a broader male audience, which in the past might have been marginalized by traditionally female-skewing factual features shows.

Adventure shows, for example, suddenly seem to be all the rage. ITV, hit by the loss of European football rights, has been making a big push to hold on to its male audience with shows like Bear Grylls: Mission Survive. C4’s The Island and Walking the Nile are both, essentially, adventure stories. 

It all goes back, says Boundless Patrick Holland, to that buzzword authenticity. “One of the reasons adventure works is because it has a rawness to it – it takes you to a place which is less filtered.”

There are other trends apparent in factual television, two of which have come together in BBC1 hit Eat Well for Less. With audiences of over 5m, it’s another of those shows that people working in factual TV are talking about.

“It’s a Ronseal title,” says Tim Harcourt, creative director at Studio Lambert (Gogglebox, Undercover Boss). “And it has caught on to two zeitgeists – how to live your life and be healthy, and how to save money.“ A well made, straight down the line features show, Harcourt says it proves that “if you have a simple idea and you execute it really well, viewers will watch it.”

Studio Lambert is, of course, the home of 2013 sleeper factual hit Gogglebox. Harcourt says the company is focusing its development attention on formats and factual shows that have “more of an entertainment sensibility.” He argues the success of shows like The X Factor lies in the fact that they are entertainment and factual hybrids. Their back stories are a classic example of “amazing British documentary storytelling being stuck on to an entertainment format.”

“Now I think how can we make documentary and factual entertainment shows have a bit of an entertainment sensibility. Not just in terms of laughs and the beats, but how they are produced and how they look.”

Harcourt cites Studio Lambert’s new series Tattoo Fixers for E4, a doc in which three leading tattoo artists offer their own ideas to help fix tattoo disasters. Clients decide which artist to use, and there is a big reveal at the end of the show. “There are entertainment or factual entertainment beats on a show that to all intents and purposes looks like a great documentary,” says Harcourt.

Certainly, there is a feeling that the mainstream broadcasters need to discover the next big thing as competition from multichannel and video on demand players increases. “It’s a massive challenge for producers and broadcasters to deliver the next turn of the wheel. The last one was the rig show,” says Twofour’s Andrew Mackenzie. “Something will come in the next twelve months that will do it – it is desperately needed.”

Posted 17 March 2015 by Tim Dams

Tracking down the best tunes

Want some musical inspiration for your next show? Televisual asked production music libraries to suggest track ideas for seven hypothetical programme ideas.

It’s never easy choosing the right music for a production. Music is so subjective that programme makers can seriously disagree about the right choice – a director may love a track, while the editor may not.

One thing is certain though. With budgets under pressure, cost effective production music is becoming increasingly important. But where to get the right track from? In this article, we’ve sought to showcase some of the places you can turn to. We have come up with seven hypothetical programme ideas - across docs, formats, drama, commercials and corporate.

We put these (fictional) programme ideas to production music libraries so they could suggest which of their tracks might work best – and to explain the reason for each choice. We’ve not published costs of the music as some broadcasters will cover music in their blanket agreement. Otherwise, many companies will follow the PRS rate card.

Click on the track links to hear the music in full.

Primetime documentary series
This brand new rig show is set in a London fire station. With cameras placed all around the station, it reveals the challenges and realities of life as a fireman in 2015.

Reliable Source Music
Music suggested: Traction (Album Style Rebels)
Why suitable “A catchy pop-rock track with a great intro that then builds with a slightly aggressive feel evoking the feeling of urgency. It even features a distant sounding siren, but not in an obvious cheesy in your face way!”

Addictive Tracks
Music suggested Hunters B
Why suitable “This is a fast and hard beat to reflect a job that is equally so. The driving rhythm creates a sense of energy and urgency whilst the urban feel evokes the imposing atmosphere of the big city.”

JW Media Music
Music suggested The Last Echo from album SW011 Minima in Switch library
Why suitable “This track adds great punctuation to the drama of being a fire fighter. A very simple repeated figure, this track would work in the same vein as the punctuation motif used in the hit C4 doc Royal Marines Commando School. Not overpowering, very thoughtful and reflective of the drama and risks involved.”

Travel/history series
An acclaimed historian travels to the battlefields of the Napoleonic War, using state of the art digital technology to recreate the key battles of the conflict.

Addictive Tracks
Music suggested Srebrenica B
Why suitable “Picture the scene of two grand armies approaching each other through the morning mist whilst a groan of ominous strings is heard overhead.  This track transcends effortlessly through classical and modern, tying together the historical and technological elements of the piece.”

De Wolfe Music
Music suggested Ice Flow 3 Julian Scott
Why suitable “While I would want to choose music to reflect the scenes of war, it can’t be too overpowering. You want to be able to hear and understand the history as told by the experts, so let’s not steal their thunder with over-the-top music. This track is subtle, poignant and understated, yet the morbid bass drum effectively reflects war or a battle aftermath of some kind.”

Dynamic Music
Music suggested Chasewerk
Why suitable “Its driving beat creates an atmosphere of urgency leading into battle. The tune employs a strong string section which can be seen as sensitive to the Napoleonic period where Beethoven was composing his large symphonies.”

Antiques daytime
Expert presenters scour the nation’s attics, sheds and garages for forgotten antiques and then help their owners to get the best possible price at auction.

Music suggested A Sneaking Feeling (Vincent Webb SYNC_5106), Paper Planes (Vincent Webb SYNC_5112)
Why suitable “Using something light, sneaky and playful creates the feeling of excitement and curiosity for what may be discovered. The quirky nature of the music also lends itself to the mix of objects often found on these shows. A mix of tuned percussion and pizzicato strings.”
Music suggested Happy Song (BNB056 # 031); Make or Break (INSD005#5); Dreamers (LQC026 #037)
Why suitable “All are musical beds made for TV to allow for storytelling voiceover. The music reflects the scenes. 1. Finding old treasures, optimistic about making some money. 2. Auction – tension, will it sell, will we get a good price? 3. Euphoric (hopefully) at going home with cash!”

9 Lives Music
Music suggested Auction Time and Curious Cat (NLM070 Wonderful & Eccentric)
Why suitable “Music from this album was produced for daytime TV, light entertainment programmes. The tracks are quirky and curious comedy featuring a lot of pizzicato, edging onto the dramedy category. The music is a little eccentric like many of the presenters!”

This cheeky, irreverent ad for a new price comparison site seeks to introduce the service to the UK public.

EMI Production Music
Music suggested Chicken Wax Supreme (a)’ (KPM 913)
Why suitable “This cheeky, positive ska groove complements the nature of the commercial perfectly. The fresh, sunny brass bounces consistently throughout without being too overbearing or taking anything away from the primary message. Plus, brass is so hot right now…”

Universal Publishing Production Music
Music suggested Gold Digger from the album Dramedy 2 - The Sequel Label: Hollywood Music
Why suitable “The classic light-hearted ‘dramedy’ style of Gold Digger portrays the irreverent and cheeky feel for the ad. The instrumentation promotes a company image which is friendly and ‘no hassle’ with a slight childlike quality.”

Music suggested Cheeky Pizz
Why suitable “Light and cheeky with a feeling of movement and confidence. This style of music has a very general appeal across all ages. This track would sit well under the voice (male or female).”

Early evening docusoap
Doc series that goes behind the scenes at the UK’s biggest airport to reveal the complexity of getting passengers safely to their destination.

EMI Production Music
Music suggested Busy Bumble (C, KPM 853)
Why suitable “Pizzicato strings may be overused on TV but there is a reason for that. They fit perfectly for driving narration forward and providing the set for busy, bustling scenes. The track immediately picks up the viewer to the pace of the myriad of complex tasks being performed, as well as giving great edit points to follow specific characters and situations.”

JW Media Music
Music suggested Spirit of Light  (SOZ062 Ambient Chill Vol 6), Creation & Flow (Sonic Ozault)
Why suitable “This is a minimal tense underscore with a flow like feel. This would suit because while the premise of the show is busy and a feat of organisational skill, it should feel tense and pressured but not overly dramatic or dangerous. Also, it leaves room for narration which features heavily in these kinds of shows.”

Universal Publishing Production Music
Music suggested Light Tension (underscore version, Essential Drama, Kosinus label)
Why suitable “The UK’s biggest airport has a complex infrastructure where error can occur in every stage. The Light Tension track (underscore version) helps to maintain and build the documentary’s narrative. Also, it has a ‘ticking’ feeling. Timing is a very important element at the airport so ‘ticking’ should make this element even stronger.”

Drama series
A mid-budget, fast-paced crime drama series about a crack UK forensics team who will stop at nothing to solve a case.

Universal Publishing Production Music
Music suggested Mood Pulse (Hard Drama 4, Atmosphere label)
Why suitable “As well as being quite gritty and industrial it also has a beat which pushes it forwards with a bit of pace. The track isn’t too dark so isn’t too overbearing but has the right levels of tension. I could picture this track in a scene where the forensics team is investigating a murder scene or in a lab running tests allowing for continuity through the series.”

De Wolfe Music
Music suggested Unravelling, Edward Cooper
Why suitable “Its exciting, hard hitting drum rhythms keep the tension right up and the listener on edge. The revolving motifs and that relentless spiral of sound in the background create a suspenseful and sinister atmosphere, building up to a really heightened sense of drama and urgency.”

Reliable Source Music
Music suggested Music for Murder (RSM163)
Why suitable “One of our recent releases Music for Murder was made with crime docs/dramas in mind. Mixtures of orchestral strings and electronic elements often work well, our track Black Ops being a good example. The strings help to create an anxious atmosphere and the electronic parts are able to complement subject matter such as forensics to apply or reinforce a modern technological element to scenes.”

Corporate film
This film from a small British manufacturer is designed to introduce its latest product to the marketplace and will be used primarily at trade shows, corporate events and on its website.

Cue Songs
Music suggested The Ramona Flowers, Lust and Lies, Instrumental)
Why suitable “Corporate videos are very easy to get wrong as it’s hard not to make it sound dull without being distracting. You need to be wallpaper, but designer wallpaper rather than Homebase. This track manages to never outstay its welcome without ever dominating. You could listen to someone talk about valves and market shares forever with this as the soundtrack.”

Dynamic Music
Music suggested Waves
Why suitable “This track exudes class. This is for the British brand that wants to portray modernity but also demonstrate that they have employed old techniques. This track would complement a British luxury item. Its sound is on point with the tropical house movement that is sweeping the country still, so it would invoke a familiarity with its listeners.”

Music suggested Getting There (Typical)
Why suitable “This track is cool, emotive, uplifting and exudes a real sense of pride. The music has a very British sound and would enhance a sincere, assured voice-over or presentation. The addition of high strings adds an air of sophistication and pushes the feel-good factor to number 11.”

Posted 16 March 2015 by Tim Dams

Party politics takes centre stage at Create UK event

Political parties laid bare their pre-election policy differences for the media sector at a parliamentary reception for the creative industries yesterday.

Sajid Javid, the Media Secretary, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary and Chris Bryant, the Shadow Minister for the Arts, spoke on behalf of the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour respectively at a Create Industries Council event in the House of Commons.

The event was held to celebrate the achievements of the UK creative industries, which are worth £80bn to the UK economy and employ 1.7m people. Senior figures from across the creative industries attended, including BBC dg Tony Hall, C4 boss David Abraham, Warner Bros UK head Josh Berger and Facebook’s UK Nicola Mendelsohn.

The event also saw the launch of Hiive, a new professional social network for the creative industries, which has been driven by Creative Skillset.

Cable spoke first and began by praising the creative industries for their contribution to the UK economy. He said the creative industries represented 5% of the UK economy, but were growing three times faster than the rest of the economy. “This is an incredible success story,” said Cable.

He added that several key messages had emerged since the launch of Council’s Create UK strategy last summer. “On top of the list is finance, because there are some brilliant companies that cannot raise funding,” said Cable. He said the Business Bank, launched by the Coalition last year, had offered about a quarter of its start up loans to the creative industries. About 2000 creative industries companies had accessed loans or guarantees, Cable added.

Cable also said more work needed to be done to boost apprenticeships, protect IP and to boost exports.

He added that the Liberal Democrats would also prevent Channel 4 from being privatised. “What I and my party are committed to is making sure that Channel 4 isn’t offloaded to the private sector.”

Proposals to privatise C4 were reportedly drawn up last year by the Conservative-led departments in the Coalition, including the Treasury and DCMS, amid suggestions that it could raise over £1bn.

Labour’s Chris Bryant followed Cable to the platform, also pledging to “keep Channel 4 in public hands and not to sell it off”.

He added that Labour would back a “strong” BBC. “The single biggest investment that the government makes in the creative industries in this country is the licence fee. That is why Labour will keep the licence fee and the BBC strong.”

Bryant also praised the creative industries, noting that they accounted for 1 in 12 UK jobs and were the only sector in the economy to grow by 4% year on year. “That means creativity is not an optional add on to the British economy – it is the bedrock of our success.”

As a result, Bryant said that arts education at school should be at the heart of the UK’s economic strategy. “So let’s put a stop to dissing artistic education in schools…let’s say that Ofsted will only be able to call a school outstanding if it is outstanding at arts and cultural opportunities for every single child.”

Bryant also said the creative industries faced significant challenges. He called for more apprenticeships that were “not just about unpaid internships” and for the industry to embrace diversity. “It’s a sad reflection on the media that in the last five years the numbers of people from BAME communities working in the media has fallen not risen. That is a shocking indictment of the industry and we need to change that.”

Media Secretary Sajid Javid was the last to speak, and again he talked up the creative industries, pointing out that the sector is growing three times faster than the rest of the economy.

He picked out two reasons for the UK’s success in this area. The first reason, he said, was “the immense creative talent that exists in our country.” Citing success at the Oscars, Brits and Baftas and contributions from publishing, architecture, advertising and design, he added, “it is fair to say we have the most creative people on earth in our country.”

Secondly, Javid picked out the government’s support for the creative industries, in particular the boost from tax credits for sectors such as film, TV drama, animation, kids TV and theatres. “If you look at the transformation of the movie industry, just last year was a record year of investment - £1.5bn went into the industry in the UK.”

Javid also cited the government’s £1.7bn investment in broadband and its role in IP protection as two other key pillars of support.

Tellingly, however, he failed to mention whether the Conservatives were for or against the privatisation of Channel 4.

Photo credit: Pete Sherrard Photography.

Posted 10 March 2015 by Tim Dams

Behind the scenes: ITV's Arthur & George

Julian Barnes’ literary hit Arthur & George has been radically rethought for its ITV adaptation.
“I thought it was un-adaptable,” says Julian Barnes, the author of the acclaimed novel Arthur & George, which forms the basis of a new three-part series for ITV, starring Martin Clunes.

Arthur & George is based on true events in the life of Sherlock Holmes, creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in which he pursues a notorious miscarriage of justice.

Set in 1906, it follows Conan Doyle and his secretary Alfred ‘Woodie’ Wood as they investigate the case of George Edalji, a young Anglo-Indian solicitor who was imprisoned for allegedly mutilating animals and writing obscene letters.

Barnes, who won the Man Booker prize for his book The Sense of an Ending, thinks Arthur & George has a fictional structure that “couldn’t possibly hold together over three episodes.”

So it comes as little surprise to find that ITV’s adaptation is substantially different from the book. The original novel focused heavily on the early lives of the protagonists and spends alternative chapters with Arthur and George before their stories finally intertwine far into the novel. There are also long passages devoted to Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism.

At a press screening last month, the talk centred on how the producers had successfully managed to adapt a highbrow book – whose most obvious home might be BBC2 - for commercial broadcaster ITV’s broad audience.

It’s also an adaptation that Barnes approves of. He sounds relaxed about the changes, noting that TV is a different art form from the novel. Narratives have to be rationalised to fit the visual medium of TV, he says. ITV director of drama Steve Novemberdescribes the series as “a complex, character-driven mystery treat” – which “proves the BBC doesn’t have a monopoly on proper books”.

Producer Philippa Braithwaite read the book soon after it was published in 2005. But it took her several years to option, and when she finally succeeded she took it straight to ITV – because it is the home of Doc Martin, which she produces with her husband Martin Clunes through their indie Buffalo Pictures. She contacted script writer Ed Whitmore (Silent Witness, Waking the Dead), who she thought would suit the project because of his crime writing background.

“Firstly we did quite a literal adaptation of the book. We followed the line of the book and we did a George and an Arthur.” But ITV felt it didn’t work –it wasn’t visual or exciting enough.

Says Whitmore: “So we went back to the drawing board.” He then concentrated on events in the latter part of the book when Arthur and George come together, and Arthur takes up George’s case and decides he is going to try to clear his name. Arthur’s secretary Alfred Wood is also given a prominent role as his investigating sidekick – bringing a buddy movie element to the script. “They are a fun pair and almost comic – they are two guys you want to hang out with,” says Whitmore.

Whitmore also begins the story shortly after the death of Conan Doyle’s first wife, when Doyle is wracked with guilt for having had a mistress during her illness and feels unable to write another Sherlock Holmes story. “Once we decided we would take a more radical, re-conceptualising approach to the book, that felt like the jumping off point. Here’s this man who is paralysed by all these things in his personal life who takes up this case, this challenge.”

When Arthur & George was finally commissioned, Braithwaite put the script in front of Clunes. “A few people have asked me if it was written as a vehicle for Martin. It wasn’t. The part existed through the book and it’s a real person, but it was great that he wanted to do it.” Still, Clunes admits to feeling nervous about taking on the role, and particularly about putting on a Scottish accent.  “If it hadn’t been my own wife doing it, I would have probably done a runner. But I didn’t want to lose face,” he says.

Braithwaite tapped into the drama tax credit and gap financing to bolster the ITV budget. “The tax credit helped enormously,” she says. “We couldn’t have done with out it.”

Indeed, the series makes use of extensive locations – including Trafalgar Square, Somerset House and St Pancras in London and the Black Country Museum in the West Midlands – which are all rendered in period style to lend a sense of place and atmosphere from the early 1900s.

Director Stuart Orme (Foyle’s War), oversaw the eight-week shoot. Shooting on the Arri Alexa, he has used the camera’s ability to shoot in low light to play up the sense of light and shade in the drama. Even though Arthur & George is essentially a dark story, Orme says it was “clear we needed lighter moments – and a lightness of touch”.

Braithwaite says if Arthur & George is successful she’d like to bring more of their stories to the screen. “The one thing I hadn’t really realised was how much it was going to become about Arthur and Woodie. The chemistry of those two has really worked.”

Cast Martin Clunes, Arsher Ali, Art Malik, Emma Fielding, Charles Edwards, Hattie Morahan, Sandra Voe
Production company Buffalo Pictures
ITV commissioners Steve November, Victoria Fea
Producers Philippa Braithwaite, Trevor Hopkins
Writer Ed Whitmore
Director Stuart Orme
Associate producer Sandy Poustie
DoP Suzie Lavelle
Production designer Anthony Ainsworth
Location manager Clive Miles
Editor David Yardley
Production co-ordinator Jools Woodcock
VFX producer Louise Hussey, Double Negative
Camera  Arri Alexa
Post production Encore

Posted 02 March 2015 by Tim Dams
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