Here’s the full text of Idris Elba’s impressive speech in Parliament this week, in which he called for greater diversity in the media.
The Luther and Beasts of No Nation star called for a ‘Magna Carta moment’ in British Broadcasting to make things fairer for women, disabled people and people of difference races.
“Thanks for such a warm welcome. I could almost feel at home…
In fact we’re not far from where I grew up in East London, but as a young man, I never thought I’d come here. In fact as an older man, I never thought I’d come here.
But Oona [King] invited me to speak here today. You know what she's like, she's a bit obsessed with diversity. I told her to get out more, and stop watching TV.
Thing is, when you get out more, you see there's a disconnect between the real world and TV world. People in the TV world often aren't the same as people in the real world.
And there’s an even bigger gap between people who make TV, and people who watch TV. I should know, I live in the TV world.
And although there's a lot of reality TV, TV hasn't caught up with reality. Change is coming, but it's taking its sweet time.
1. Because the TV world helps SHAPE the real world. It’s also a window on our world. But when we look out the window, none of us live in Downton Abbey.
2. Because the creative industries are the foundation of Britain's future economy. You guys want to safeguard Britain's economy, right? That's your job?
3. If you want to safeguard the economy, you have to safeguard the Creative Industries; and they rely on TALENT.
Talent is our lifeblood - we can't afford to WASTE it, or give it away. But when you don't reflect the real world, too much talent is trashed. Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn't. And talent can’t reach opportunity.
Especially on our small island – that’s why British talent gets exported all over the world. We haven’t done enough to nurture our diverse talent.
But before I go any further I want to say something really important: I'm not here to talk about black people; I’m here to talk about diversity.
Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour. It’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and - most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought.
Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV & film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned.
Anyway, on the whole, I don’t think of myself as just a ‘black actor’. I’m an actor, not a number. Just like anyone else. You know what I mean; all the MPs in the room, (by the way, thanks so many of you for coming. Oona tells me it’s really unusual to get 100 MPs to turn up, she says often she can’t even get one.)
But you guys know what I mean, about not just being a number. I suspect, for those of you who have children, you don’t just speak as a politician, you speak as a parent.
Well I’m not just a black man, and you're not just a politician. None of us are just one flavour or one colour. If we were, we’d be one- dimensional.
And that’s what used to drive me mad as an up and coming actor.
My agent and I, we’d get scripts and we were always asked to read the “black male” character. Or “the athletic type.” And that was just Crimewatch… But when a script called for a “black male”, it wasn’t describing a character. It was a describing a skin colour.
A white man - or a caucasian - was described as “a man with a twinkle in his eye”. My eyes may be dark, but they definitely twinkle! (Ask the Mrs…) And I was like “I wanna play the character with a twinkle in his eyes!”
So I got to a certain point in my career, and I saw that glass ceiling; I was very close to hitting my forehead on it. I was busy, I was getting lots of work, but I realised I could only play so many “best friends” or “gang leaders”.
I knew I wasn’t going to land a lead role. I knew there wasn’t enough imagination in the industry for me to be seen as a lead. In other words, if I wanted to star in a British drama like Luther, then I’d have to go to a country like America.
Now some people might say “but back then, Britain hardly had any black detectives, so how could you expect us to have a TV show about one?
How could you expect the BBC to have the imagination to put Luther on TV? …because it’s TELEVISION?!
And the other thing was, because I never saw myself or my culture on TV, I stopped watching TV. Instead I decided to just go out and become TV.
If I aspired to be on a level with the Denzil Washingtons, and the Robert de Niro’s, I had to reinvent myself. I had to transform the way industry saw me. I had to climb out of the box.
In other words I didn’t go to America because I couldn’t GET parts. I went to America because I was running OUT of parts. They were all the same sort of parts.
But 20 or 25 years ago there were a handful of casting directors, without whom I wouldn’t be here today:
- Doreen Jones
- Priscilla John
- The Hubbards
- Leo Davis
- Mary Selwaye
These people regularly auditioned me, they saw the twinkle in my eyes, and put me up for roles that definitely weren’t written for me or my type.
At which point I’d like to add, the BBC was the broadcaster to give me my first break. In all honesty they’ve been incredible to me, not to mention our country, and the WORLD. They also had the imagination.
It’s that same imagination casting director Nina Gold had, when she cast the film “Attack The Block”. She searched the whole of London for raw talent, much of it diverse. She found John Boyega, a British African.
Nina then put Boyega up to be the hero in the latest Star Wars blockbuster. Since when did the lead character in Star Wars come from Peckham? Since a woman with imagination became the casting director.
It’s the vision of people like Nina, and those 5 original casting directors, that allows me to stand before you today. That, and the fact I refused to be pigeon-holed. I’m not gonna lie, it was really hard work.
What all this taught me, is too often people get locked inside boxes. And it’s not a great place to be.
Ask women, they’ll say the same thing. Or disabled people. Or gay people. Or any number of under-represented groups.
So today I’m asking the TV & film industry to think outside the box, and to GET outside the box.
This isn’t a speech about race, this is a speech about imagination. Diversity of thought. Thankfully in our country, we’re free to say what we want.
But we’re not as free as we think, because our imagination isn’t that free. We can’t help putting people inside boxes, it’s a national pastime… Funny thing is, it’s not good for the people locked in the box; but it’s also not good for the people deciding what’s ON the box.
Audiences don’t want to see caricatures. Because the point about a caricature is this: you’ve seen it all before. So I want our incredibly creative and successful TV industry to be more imaginative with the cultural exports we send around the world.
We have an amazing record. Think about Britain’s place in history. For half a millennia we shaped the world. Winston Churchill said he could save the British Empire from anything – except the British…
Like all great men he had his flaws. He wasn’t too hot on gender equality… All the women MPs here today, you probably know what he said to the first woman MP: - that having her in Parliament was as embarrassing as if she’d walked into the men’s toilets!
Some of Churchill’s attitudes were plain wrong. But he was truly visionary when he said this: “the empires of the FUTURE are empires of the MIND.”
Now before I leave the subject of Empire, I should mention I’m honoured - just the other day - to have become an Officer of the British Empire.
The exact title is “Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” – a snappy little number. And of course the word “Empire” is laden with meaning – especially to the son of a Ghanaian mother and Sierra Leonean father. The irony is not lost on me.
The British Empire brought great progress to many, and for others, great suffering. But history isn’t always neat and tidy, the sums don’t always add up.
What’s for sure, though, our Empire gave birth to the multi-cultural miracle that is modern Britain. And for that I’m grateful.
So back to “Empires of the Mind”: That’s my theme: how can we change our mindset? How can we be more imaginative to make our creative industries more successful?
How can Britain influence the world to embrace diversity, and be more tolerant?
When you look at the news today, nothing could be more important. But just because we do better than most countries, doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn.
Look at the lesson of the Olympics. What did we learn?
* We learned that if you invest in sports, you win gold;
* that our country is a nation of volunteers;
* that disabled sport can be more thrilling than NON-disabled sport
* and that VIPs can find their way to Newham (if they have their own bus lane)…
We came third in the medal table - an amazing achievement. But make no mistake, we could have won more gold.
Here are two incredible statistics:
50% of British medal winners went to private school. Yet only 7% of British kids GO to private school.
How many Mo Farah's did we miss? How many Jessica Ennis’ will never be discovered? Think what we could have achieved if we'd fished for talent consistently among the other 93% of British kids.
And that’s what we SHOULD BE DOING in ALL industries, including the TV & film industry: - be more consistent about looking for talent everywhere
Even so, when Mo Farah is wrapped in the British flag, (Somalian born, raised in Newham); - and when the entire British nation cheers him fanatically, the world intuitively learns more about diversity and tolerance.
We show the world that Britain thinks outside the box. That’s how we changed from an empire based on raw materials and military might; to a cultural power exporting talent & creativity.
We don’t steal gold any more. We WIN it. From hard power to soft power. And in terms of soft power, nothing is more powerful than the media. Only one other country in the world influences what people watch more than us.
In terms of real estate on this earth, we’re a small island. But in terms of culture we’re a continent. The Britain I come from is the most successful, diverse, multicultural country on earth.
But here’s my point: you wouldn’t know it if you turned on the TV. Too many of our creative decision-makers share the same background.
They decide which stories get told, and those stories decide how Britain is viewed. Even to ourselves. Especially to ourselves.
Furthermore, how Britain is viewed on the world stage should concern all of us. It's all our business. And that’s why everyone should care about our media industry - it’s the custodian of our global identity.
But everyone knows British broadcasting these days can be a tough gig.
Execs running TV companies, (Hi there) you need to make cash, grab audience, and please Government. And these days you’re in a fight to the death with the streaming people. And the platform people. And the content people. The war never ends.
Technology has turned TV on its head. The audience is now consumer and “commissioner”.
If young people don’t see themselves on TV, they just switch off the TV, and log on. End of. They create their own channels. Their own audience. They become their own CEOs. They don’t need us.
Because as the experts in the room know, the TV industry is about two things: - the pipes, and what you send down the pipes.
The pipes used to be just the broadcasters. And the broadcasters were the only ones who could send content down the pipes.
Now, anyone can send stuff down those pipes. Before, there were only 4 broadcasters. Now, everyone’s a broadcaster. A lot of young people never switch on a TV. They’re on their mobiles all day long.
Times are truly changing. The times when TV was the only window to the outside world, are long gone. Kids have windows in their pockets.
But what will bring the change we need? Three things:
1. A change of mindset: get all commissioners and content creators to think about diversifying at the beginning of the creative process, not the end.
2. Transparency: friendly competition between broadcasters. See who’s
actually doing the best creative diversity. Benchmark it. That encourages everyone to do better.
3. A different approach towards risk. The story of Netflix is that risk- taking delivers audiences
Let’s be honest. Too often commissioners look at diverse talent, and all they see is risk. Black actors are seen as a commercial risk. Women directors are seen as a commercial risk. Disabled directors aren’t even seen at all.
In general, if broadcasters want to stay in the game, their commissioners must take more risk with diverse talent.
Now if you’re thinking “who’s he to say all this?”, I asked myself the same question. I asked Oona, actually, “who am I to say all this?!”
And she started going on about me being a “British export…” (She was talking about me as if I was a crate of Nigerian Guinness…)
If some people see me as an export, that’s fine, but I only come with my story and my observations. I don't pretend to be anything I'm not. So what am I? I’m a product of my imagination. Made in Hackney. Made in Newham. Made in Dagenham. But above all, made in my mind: Seeing it, thinking it, doing it.
I used to fit tyres in Dagenham, now I make films in Hollywood. And the difference between those two lives comes down to one single word – OPPORTUNITY.
By the way, I got my tyre-fitting job through a Youth Training Scheme. Good old YTS Schemes, who remembers them in the 80s?? Before that, for a while I went to a school for disabled kids. I had severe asthma. I finally got my first break in the creative industries from the Prince’s Trust.
Yeah, the good old Prince Charles stepped straight up for me, right in there, well done! Helped me break into theatre, and from there tv and film.
The Prince’s Trust subsidised my first ever audition for the National Music Youth Theatre. They gave me £1,500, because my parents didn't have enough money; - there were hardly any black kids there, none of us could afford it.
And although back then obviously I never met Prince Charles, we both had one thing in common: We both fell into the same line of work as our parents. Yeah it just sort of happens…
My Dad worked in a car factory, so before I could get work as an actor, I ended up doing night shifts at Ford Dagenham. In fact Ford Dagenham turned out to have more opportunity, and more diversity, than the TV industry I was trying to break into.
And without the Prince’s Trust I probably wouldn’t have made it - because so many invisible chains can hold you back. Historically in Britain, you never escaped. If you started at the bottom of the heap, you most likely died at the bottom of the heap.
Things started to change inside this incredible building; the building where every British monarch has been crowned since 1066.
While I’m on the subject of 1066, I should say my history's not all that.
A long time after I left school, someone explained what the Magna Carta was. For people in your industry, Magna Carta is the basis of modern democracy: For people in the music industry, Magna Carta is a rap album by friend
So Magna Carta was a peace treaty between the King and the Barons (shout out to the Barons in the room today).
The idea was, the King couldn’t just take things off people on a whim. IT WAS ABOUT THINGS BECOMING FAIRER. It was preceded by the Doomsday book, a big map of Britain which counted up what everybody had. Back then, King’s always had their eye on everyone else’s stuff.
They weren’t sorting out drama auditions for YTS kids… But back to my point: in a funny way, broadcasting needs a Magna Carta. We need to start doing things more fairly.
It’s not so much a Peace treaty; more an Opportunity Treaty.
We need to count up what everybody has, see the lay of the land, and see who has which careers in TV? Who makes TV? Who's allowed ON TV?
And when they get the opportunity, which roles do they play, both on and offscreen. Are black people often playing petty criminals? Are women always playing the love interest or talking about men? Are gay people always stereotyped? Are disabled people hardly ever seen? Do some people have their careers taken away on a whim? Is their talent unfairly ignored?
So yeah, back to the box; Back to the stereo-typing. Take gender stereo-typing: “girls love dolls, boys love cars”.
Well actually I DO love cars. I'm a stereotypical boy who loves his fast cars.
Yeah, I don’t mind playing Achilles in Tr oillus & Cressida, but I’d rather break the land speed record in a Bentley at nearly 200 mph. Just can’t help it.
And I just have to ask myself, “is it because I’m a man?” (The answer is probably “yes.”) So women also have to ask themselves a question: When they disappear off our screens over the age of 40, “is it because they’re FEMALE??” (The answer is probably “yes.”) And is that why they always get paid less than their male co-stars? (The answer is DEFINITELY “yes!”)
That brings me on to Channel 4’s conference on Diversity in the Media tomorrow. I agreed to speak in Parliament today, because I want to highlight the important discussion taking place tomorrow
The CEOs of Channel 4, ITV, and the BBC, are just some of those industry leaders meeting to discuss diversity.
And Channel 4’s research for the conference is really interesting. The headline finding is that British TV is awash with low-level sexism. The interesting comparison, is that the same figure for low-level racism was only a tenth of that.
This means women on TV are 10 times more likely to be treated negatively than black people on TV.
That’s crazy, right? I’m not saying you expect black people to be treated worse than women (although God help black women). But as Viola Davies said last year when she became the first-ever black woman to win an Emmy for drama, “you can’t win an Emmy for a role that’s never been written.”
That’s why we need more imagination from our directors, our producers, our casting directors, our writers - especially our writers. So I’m just saying we need to be more aware.
In the 1970s, popular TV programmes like the Black & White Minstrels, and Love Thy Neighbour were awash with what you might call “light- hearted racism”.
At the time, though, everyone thought it was absolutely fine to go along with it. The same with homophobia. The same with disability.
Well I want to say something very clear to all the women in the TV & film industry, onscreen and offscreen: I don’t think it’s absolutely fine to go along with it.
Audiences shouldn’t think it’s absolutely fine to go along with it. Above all: the industry shouldn’t think it’s absolutely fine to go along with it. Instead we need to educate ourselves out of it.
And however far we have to travel ONscreen, we have many more rivers to cross OFFscreen.
When we take this problem in the round, this lack of opportunity leads to me being asked the same question again and again.
This is what every young actor asks me: “should I go to America to become a successful actor?”
I’m always in a quandry. Because it’s not always true that the grass is greener: But the reason I went to America, is because the USA has the most famous diversity policy of all: it's called the American Dream.
The problem is the GAP between the dream and reality. That gap is what Martin Luther King set out to fill with his dream. To champion diversity is to champion the American dream.
It’s to say that if you work hard and you have great talent, you will have the same chance as anyone else to succeed. It guarantees no more than that, but that in itself is a golden guarantee.
And I want that guarantee here in Britain. I want that British dream.
The stats show we haven’t had it in the past. In fact we don’t really have it in the present. It’s a shocking fact that only 1.5% of British TV is made by B.A.M.E directors.
But the other thing we haven’t had, is this commitment from those at the very top of broadcasting, combined with the current level of strategy, finance, transparency, and accountability.
This is the new system they’ve put in place, working together within the Creative Diversity Network. Yes we are trying to turn a tanker. But the tanker is turning.
And we have so many great people to learn from, like Keli Lee at DisneyABC, who has done so much to change the face of American TV.
Keli made sure that one of the most powerful people in American TV got their break. That is Shonda Rhymes, and those of you who haven’t heard of her, well you will…
- She’s the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal among many other hit shows. Shonda isn’t just THE ONLY black woman in America to have her own night on TV (with 3 hit shows back-to-back on one night).
Shonda is the only person in America to have that. She’s done what no one else has. At least partly thanks to Keli.
And Keli’s own Diverse Casting Initiative is responsible for a lot of the diverse talent we see onscreen, so it’s great news we’re looking to do something similar in the UK.
And now, for the last time - I promise you - back to fast cars… I was surprised to hear, the CAR industry and steel industry combined don't bring in as much cash to Britain as our creative industries.
So let’s make sure our creative industries get all the talent this country has to offer: - whether that talent just walked out of Oxbridge, or off the factory floor.
In conclusion, then, let’s have a bit of a Magna Carta moment in British Broadcasting. Let’s make things fairer. And let’s see who’s got what.
Luckily we have just the thing.
- It’s taken British Broadcasting several years to develop, but it’s called Project DIAMOND.
For the first time we’ll have hard data across the TV industry on who’s doing exactly what, where, and when. Let’s take the guesswork out of it.
Our broadcasting industry will be the first in the world to have hard data about which groups are locked inside the box.
It’ll show us which Broadcasters’ diversity policies work best. Once we know that, we can benchmark progress. And that’s all I’m asking: let’s make some serious progress. It’s what Lenny Henry and so many others have asked for.
In conclusion, these are the things that will bring about change:
- being more imaginative in all we do
- fishing for talent more consistently across all groups, not just some
- implementing transparent systems to benchmark what Broadcasters actually do
- understanding “risk”, and re-evaluating commercial risk
- implementing dozens of targeted policies, like those you heard at the beginning of this meeting
- If you’re really interested (and I hope you’re ALL really interested), make Channel 4’s Diversity Charter your bedtime reading. Google it. (It might keep you awake longer than you think!)
- Check out what the BBC, Sky, ITV and others are doing to be more diverse.
So my message today is let’s get more professional about this whole area;
- our economy depends on it;
- our future depends on it.
Nelson Mandela said “anything difficult always seems impossible until it’s done.” But the good news is, we’re not trying to put a man on the moon. We’re just trying to redesign the face of British TV. And because British TV helps shape our world, and is the window onto our world, this is a debate for everyone.
And yes, let’s make our cultural empire even more successful than our military empire.
I'll leave you with this thought: I don't want to give away any spoilers, but in the new Star Wars film, isn't it amazing the princess grows up to be a General??!
Seriously: let that sink in: the princess grows up to be a General!
That's all I'm asking for:
- some proper imagination,
- untold stories
- the road less travelled
Let's think outside the box. In fact let's smash the box. Given we're in London let's "MASH the box." G'wan, mash it up!
Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, officers of the Empire, and any princesses,
With The X Factor tiring and The Voice moving, entertainment TV is ripe for innovation. Tim Dams reports on the hunt for elusive hits in a genre that many say has become a victim of its own success
Soon after the successful launch of Celebrity Juice in 2008, the show’s producer Leon Wilson met with ITV2 channel controller Zai Bennett. And he was taken aback when Bennett predicted that the fledgling Keith Lemon vehicle would run for ten years.
“We’re now seven years in, and we may get to 10 years,” says Wilson, now managing director of Talkback, which makes Celebrity Juice as well as entertainment shows such as Through the Keyhole, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and QI.
Wilson cites this conversation as evidence of the incredible staying power of hit entertainment shows. “If you get it right, a show can run and run,” he says.
Indeed, leading shows like I’m A Celebrity (which launched in 2002), Saturday Night Takeaway (also 2002), The X Factor (2004), Strictly Come Dancing (2004) and Britain’s Got Talent (2007) and The Voice (2012) are notable for their longevity onscreen.
Each consistently ranks at the very top of its channels’ ratings charts. Strictly is the stand out performer this year with audiences approaching 12m on a weekly basis. The Voice, meanwhile, has been the subject of a big money transfer from BBC1 to ITV, where it will air from 2017.
Showing their age
However, several are starting to show signs of their age. Ratings for The X Factor have been a particular concern, with the the Saturday show watched by an average of 5.9m and the final scoring 8.4m viewers – well down from its peak of 19.1m in 2010. I’m A Celebrity, meanwhile, bowed out last month with its lowest series finale in six years.
With a handful of brands dominant for so long, crowding out new shows and innovation, many now say that entertainment TV has become a victim of its own success.
Indie producers also say that it is a tough market to operate in with limited slots available for new entertainment shows to pitch for. There’s a perception that the BBC is less active in the genre, having announced cuts to entertainment spend in November as part of a £150m cost saving plan. At a recent entertainment commissioning briefing to dozens of producers, the corporation focused on just two key slots that it is currently looking to fill (see below for more details). These are, however, two very big commissions to compete for.
As for ITV, producers fear that its indie buying spree – which has seen it snap up entertainment outfits like Talpa Media and Twofour – mean that it is focused on creating new formats inhouse.
Sky, meanwhile, has changed tack in entertainment, and is trying to build a more consistent entertainment offer rather than ploughing most of its resources into one big, expensive show, such as Got to Dance.
And C4 has found success with hybrid entertainment shows, that straddle genres such as factual with entertainment, such as Hunted, and is looking for shows that get out of the studio more and reflect the outside world.
A tough market
The market, acknowledges Wilson, is “broadly tough” for producers. On the positive side, he notes that entertainment remains firmly at the heart of the TV schedules. “The big hitters are still doing quite well, but there has not been a big show coming through since The Voice,” says Wilson.
Instead, the past year has seen a succession of minor new hits, including ITV’s hypnotherapy series You’re Back in the Room and Japanese format Ninja Warrior. There’s been misses too, such as BBC1’s Tumble and Prized Apart, both axed after their first series.
But there are hopes for upcoming formats: ITV has ordered US gameshow 500 Questions, which aired to modest success on ABC in May; while there is strong buzz for BBC1’s upcoming gameshow Can’t Touch This, produced by Northern Ireland’s Stellify Media, owned by Sony Pictures Television.
The BBC: Replacing the Voice
However, the biggest opportunity for years in entertainment has just opened up following ITV’s poaching of The Voice from the BBC.
The BBC is now actively searching for a replacement for 2017. But it’s not necessarily just looking for one show, says BBC acting controller of entertainment commissioning Alan Tyler. “It’s unlikely we will find a show that instantly does the same number of weeks as The Voice.” He expects to launch two, three or even four different shows in the slot to allow the BBC to try out different ideas. “It just makes sense to look at more than one format.”
Tyler says he doesn’t want to be too prescriptive about the kind of shows he is looking for in place of The Voice. “We don’t want to close down any territory.” There are some ‘absolute givens’ though: “It’s a place where, more than any other, the BBC must speak with scale. We must really unify the audience, we have got to have huge heart, and have got to be able to make something work, ideally for the whole family.”
The new shows are also likely to originate in the UK, rather than be imports, after director Tony Hall said the corporation would use savings from The Voice to develop new, home-grown formats.
Tyler insists he’s not phased by the challenge of launching a new show into the harsh glare of Saturday night prime time. “There’s a bit of a feeling that entertainment is really hard and possibly too hard to launch on Saturday night – there is too much choice elsewhere and there’s an absence of the box set moment. But in truth it has always been really tough to land entertainment.”
BBC: opportunity on BBC2
The BBC’s other big priority is a 10pm comedy entertainment format for BBC2. Here Tyler says BBC2 wants to break out of the mould of traditional comedy entertainment formats, such as stand up, interview or panel shows.
“There is nothing wrong with them, they are massively important to the successful ecology of nearly every channel. But we wonder if we are missing something.” Tyler explains: “There has been a history in British comedy entertainment of those kind of disruptive formats that can host a variety of talent and deliver the visceral thrill of the unfiltered that you get watching comedy live.”
He argues that this baton has now been picked up by American TV, via hosts such as Jimmy Fallon and James Corden and with content that can go viral and global. He also cites Saturday Night Live, Friday Night Live and The 11 O’Clock Show as reference points, adding “what we are looking for is “a big, significantly ambitious comedy entertainment vehicle.”
Elsewhere on the BBC, and to demonstrate what he feels is working in terms of entertainment, Tyler picks out Graham Norton “as a talent at the peak of his powers” and cites Only Connect as “resolutely and uncompromisingly intelligent – with a brilliant entertainment performance by Victoria Coren at its core.” He also cites Asian Provocateur and Murder in Successville. Indeed, the latter is cited by many entertainment executives as a show to note for its ‘genre busting’ approach.
ITV: X Factor plans
For ITV, meanwhile, the big question is how it will bed in The Voice, and what its plans are for The X Factor. Some within the network are said to be keen to rest The X Factor, or even to air it every other year to help freshen it up.
This was hinted at by exec producer Richard Holloway in an RTS speech in September, when he admitted that series like The X Factor have a “finite lifespan” but that it was such a successful format, it could be rested and brought back.
In the meantime, ITV has just experimented with a new kind of entertainment show. As Televisual went to press, the broadcaster was set to air The Sound of Music Live. The first time a musical has been broadcast live on national TV in the UK, the show is part of a wider trend for channels reliant on ads to air live events to attract mass audiences.
“Live events are increasingly important to channels like us,” ITV director of entertainment and comedy Elaine Bedell told The Guardian just before the launch of The Sound of Music Live. The key, she added, is to provide “unmissable big events which don’t feel the same if you don’t watch it live.”
Also coming up for ITV is studio entertainment This Time Next Year, produced by (ITV Studios-owned) Twofour. Hosted by Davina McCall, it showcases real life transformations. Twofour is also behind a Top Gear-style celebrity driving format, Drive. There’s also a new magic competition show, The Next Great Magician, set for next summer.
But much of ITV’s entertainment schedule for this year will be recommissions of new shows which launched last year, including Ninja Warrior, You’re Back in the Room, Mission Survive and Play to the Whistle.
Until recently, Sky focused much of its entertainment efforts into one big talent show – Got To Dance – which ran for five years until 2014.
“If I had the budgets of BBC1 and ITV1, then I would be doing shows of that scale all year,” says Sky head of non-scripted commissioning Celia Taylor “So I am trying build a more consistent entertainment offer all year, rather than put all my eggs in one basket.”
New offerings include darts series One Hundred and Eighty with Davina McCall and Freddie Flintoff, a ‘sportotainment’ show that targets the sports heartland of Sky. “There’s room for more in that territory – gutsy, slightly brassy, really good fun entertainment content – it’s very very Sky1,” says Taylor.
Music ent show Bring the Noise, which launched in September, has struggled to find its place. But it’s important for Sky to do things differently, insists Taylor. “We set out to break the mould of the panel show, trying to bring Saturday night entertainment values to a panel show. Intinctively it’s been the right thing to do – it’s bold, ballsy and we went for it.”
The same could be said for Wild Things, which moved out of the studio and into a forest.
Taylor says the talent show market is a mature one, dominated by the big beasts like Strictly and X Factor. And maybe it is time for a different kind of show. “We are a similar time as when Who Wants to be a Millionaire turned up. Although it had high production values, it was small, intense, quiet and one on one.”
Channel 4 looks out
Friday nights have long been the home of C4 entertainment, and the channel’s new entertainment boss Ben Caudell is looking for the next generation of shows that can play in the slot.
Humour is crucial. Caudell wants shows that “we think will be really funny.” Beyond this though, C4 is willing to experiment.
This could mean mixing up genres to create a show like Hunted, a factual and entertainment hybrid. “It’s a show about electronic surveillance. But at its heart is a game show conceit of how far can you run away as quickly as you can.” Or it might mean mashing up an existing show: Eight Out of Ten Cats Does Countdown is a “straight forward show being subverted for laughs by comedians.”
C4’s entertainment staples include The Last Leg and Chatty Man. But entertainment, says Caudell, doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a big studio and filling it with famous names. “We are sort of lacking shows that the reflect the outside world and society today,” he explains. “Where are our shows that in some way resonate with what life is like today?” A new series commissioned with this in mind is spoof news show Britain Today, Tonight starring Kayvan Novak, made by Objective Productions.
Caudell adds: “The hardest shows are the old fashioned ones where a presenter pops up on camera and goes “now it is on to round three where all of our contestants must face this challenge.”
There has been a huge amount of hype around 4K in the production sector for several years now.
4K shooting is consistently the big talking point at major production trade shows like Las Vegas’s NAB, Amsterdam’s IBC and London’s BVE, with manufacturers vying to outdo each other with their latest 4K camera and post production offerings.
Magazines and websites (including Televisual), devote plenty of coverage to new 4K kit and launches. And consumers have already started to splash out on 4K Ultra HD sets, amid marketing pushes for the format by set manufacturers.
Given all the talk about 4K/UHD, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that the format has already supplanted HD as the key production format. However, 4K production has actually been very slow to take off. There is currently very little demand from the main UK broadcasters for 4K content because they lack the infrastructure to deliver data heavy 4K programming.
The migration to 4K production will happen, but only slowly. Sky is planning its new Sky Q service later in 2016, which will be Ultra HD compatible. BT launched its Ultra HD sports channel last summer and Amazon and Netflix are commissioning content in 4K.
Televisual’s recent Production Technology Survey found that only 30% of programme makers had shot in 4K in the past year. Many of these said they filmed in 4K to future-proof their productions or because they want to achieve the best quality visuals possible for high-end docs, drama, commercial or film. Other reasons given for shooting in 4K were the greater flexibility it gives in the edit in terms of cropping, re-framing, grading and vfx. Very few have mastered in 4K though, choosing to downconvert to HD for post production. Only 12% said they have mastered in 4K.
It’s a trend confirmed by producer director and DoP Sean Lewis (Hunted, Gold Rush), who is also a tutor on DV Talent’s ‘Shooting and Directing’ courses. He says producers and broadcasters, in the main, see 4K as an additional bottom line expense, meaning that few “want to touch it.” Corporate clients, he adds, are the most open to future proofing their content in 4K.
Jai Cave, head of operations at Envy, one of the UK’s leading broadcast post houses, backs up this view. Most 4K projects Envy has worked on in the last year have been for advertising clients or for outdoor visual displays. However, he predicts an uplift in demand for 4K co-production this year, where UK broadcasters partner with US or international broadcasters who want 4K content.
Envy is investing in 4K kit – it has just installed a new 4K Baselight, five 4K Flames and has a new 4K Symphony suite scheduled. “There is definitely going to be more 4K this year, but we are not seeing an out and out replacement of HD with 4K because the broadcaster market isn’t there yet,” says Cave.
For all its advantages in terms of picture quality, 4K is more complex, time-consuming and expensive to shoot and edit than HD. Pioneer Productions md Kirstie McLure says the cost uplift is comparable to the shift from SD to HD, which had an approximate 35% increase in cost.
During a shoot, the key financial and technical challenges are around data management and storage. Phil Lewis, senior editor for Middlechild Production on two recent 4K projects Running the World (pictured above) and Demolition Man for The Insight Channel says recording in 4K is almost like returning to the days of shooting in film, when programme makers had to think incredibly carefully about how much film they were using.
Lewis says: “|The sheer size of the footage turns hard drive storage, a once seemingly limitless resource in HD into an incredibly finite one. Our current projects are shot at 4K (UHD) 50fps at 550mb/s, over 10 x what we shoot for HD. So when our cameraman forgets he is filming and shoots his foot for 6 minutes that’s well over an hour of HD footage and that cameraman has shot himself in the foot in more ways than one (this actually happened).”
Lewis adds: “Just hitting record before finding focus can waste gigabytes of space so our shooters must be well disciplined.”
A 4K shoot also needs an experienced DIT on set. 4K files, unsurprisingly, require four times the space needed for HD. So the need for back up and data transfer increases in line with this: the simple act of taking the recording card out of the camera, transferring the data, cleaning the card and putting it back into the camera happens more often and takes significantly more time. “The DIT role comes into its own on these kind of shoots, especially on location. I don’t think you can do a 4K shoot without a DIT person,” says Derren Lawford, creative director of Woodcut Media.
Things get arguably more complex in post. Data transfer times are longer, while kit needs to be more powerful and robust. Transcoding, says Lawford, “always took longer than we thought. It put a much larger dent in our edit schedule. You’d get back and be waiting for hours for things to be transcoded.”
And, just as it seemed like anyone could online using a fairly modern computer, 4K has blown that option right out of the water. Powerful machines with fast hard drives are needed to make even
“Using 4K media in a small team workflow is challenging in many ways,” says David Stephens, head of post production at Middlechild. “Most of these are in regards to space and the size of the company’s server or Raid.” He says the stack of drives and media from recent 4K projects at Middlechild became so large that it created a ‘media wrangling minefield’, only solved by investing in a larger Raid and an Avid ISIS with fibre optic connected for its online suite.
Some chose to downres the image for offline, others to do it in 4K. For Pioneer’s Evolution of Us film, the team conducted offline at a ratio of 1:1 to ensure full clarity of image. “This is critical,” argues Pioneer’s McLure. “It prevents any nasty surprises in the online which were surpressed by the offline quality of the 4K image, which can lead to additional re-edits and therefore further costs.”
Once post has taken place, there’s the issue of getting huge 4K files to clients. “The size of final exports is also a concern, as a 25 minute production is around 250gb. So sending these final versions to clients means sending drives via courier,” says Middlechild’s Stephens.
For now, though, reality or documentary series, which use hours of rushes, are not suited to 4K production. However, it won’t be long before storage and processing power catches up with the demands of 4K workflows, opening up the format to a wider range of productions. In the meantime, though, tight workflow planning and confident budgeting can minimise some of the pain of producing in 4K.
This article is taken from the January edition of Televisual. See the magazine for full article plus Q&As with programme makers who have produced shows in 4K.
ITV director of factual Richard Klein outlines the kinds of shows he is looking for in this interview filmed at Televisual’s Factual Festival late last year.
Klein, the former head of BBC4, also discusses the latest trends in factual programme making in the interview.
Klein stresses that ITV is “a big entertainment and drama channel”, which wants to see many of the values of its drama and entertainment output in its factual programming.
“Everything has to be about entertainment, about delivering [viewers] something they really want to watch.”
He also talks about the challenges facing factual programming as it seeks to attract audiences in an increasingly crowded landscape.
“There is a lot of factual out there at the moment, and cutting through means we need to be big, popular and familiar. Don’t be afraid of coming to us with ideas that feel familiar – just do them well.”
This might mean reappraising subjects through the eyes of a well known talent, as in The Mafia with Trevor McDonald.
“In some ways the mafia as a subject matter is well known. But Trevor felt right for the project, and it was beautifully made.”
He also says that some of the shows working best for ITV are big, familiar brands such as Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, Long Lost Family, Love Your Garden and Caught on Camera. They are, he says, shows that viewers are familiar with: “They signal straight away strong emotion, sentiment if you like. You know you are going to have a good time.”
He also said ‘good old fashioned ob docs’ like Rookies, Britain’s Busiest Airport - Heathrow, Superhospital and The Nick’ had worked well for ITV recently.
It’s 30 years since Tracey Ullman last made a show for the BBC before becoming one of the few British stars to crack the US market in the 1980s.
Last seen on the BBC in Three of a Kind and A Kick up the Eighties, the comedian and one-time pop star started work on the Tracey Ullman’s Show for BBC1 since February.
Featuring impressions of Dames Judy Dench and Maggie Smith, as well as Camilla Parker Bowles, former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the show stems from an invitation last year to meet with BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore and head of comedy production Myfanwy Moore.“We hit it off,” says Ullman, who was struck by the number of women at the top of the corporation. “When I was there years and years ago, it was five men in bowties who talked about the war and The Goons…it was so male dominated.”
Out of the meeting sprung the idea of making a multi-camera show, in which Ullman looks at how Britain has become a multi-cultural melting pot. She portrays diverse characters living in, or visiting, the busy global hub that is the UK. Aimed primarily at a UK audience, Ullman clearly hopes the show has international legs too; it is being sold globally by DRG.
Ullman, who has dual UK-US nationality, is quick to dismiss perceptions that she is out of touch with the UK because of her long stint in the US. “People think I haven’t been in Britain for years, but I have – I just haven’t worked here.” Her daughter lives and works in the UK, and her husband Allan McKeown – who died in December 2013 – produced many TV and stage shows through his indie Allan McKeown Presents.
“Emotionally it was great to get out after having worked with my husband for 30 years,” says Ullman, adding that the show is a co-production with the BBC and Allan McKeown Presents. “So he is still presenting me…”
Ullman teamed up with a group of writers to script the show, many of whom had worked on Veep with Armando Iannucci, including Georgia Pritchett, Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil, while The League of Gentleman’s Jeremy Dyson supervised the scripts. Dominic Brigstocke (I’m Alan Partridge, Green Wing) directs, while Caroline Norris (Raised by Wolves) produces. “It’s a quality group of people,” says Ullman.
The show was shot entirely on location, unable to secure studio space as the UK production sector is so busy with drama, film and TV shoots. “There was nothing available”, says Ullman. “But you can just be completely mobile now, and set up a video village anywhere.”
Ullman says the TV landscape has changed hugely since she last worked here. Moving to America in the 1980s, she was struck by the number of strong female comediennes on television, such as Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin. “I came from a country where we just had Benny Hill girls…you had to run around in a bikini in the early 1980s in England.” Ullman, Pamela Stephenson and French and Saunders were among the stars who helped shake it all up. “Thank God, it has changed so much,” she says.
Ullman is also quick to stand up for the BBC, endorsing Iannucci’s defence of the corporation in his MacTaggart lecture. “The BBC is under terrible threat. There are still lots of people at the BBC who don’t make a fortune, but want to make the best programming and aren’t affected by sponsors. If we lose it, it will be terrible.”
Tracey Ullman’s Show begins on Monday January 11 on BBC1 at 10.45pm
“All I want the film to do is to start people talking,” says filmmaker Sue Bourne about her latest BBC1 doc, The Age of Loneliness. Best known for her single docs such as My Street, Mum & Me and Fabulous Fashionistas, Bourne’s latest tackles what she calls the silent epidemic of loneliness in the UK.
Greenlit by BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore, it features 14 contributors talking frankly to camera about one of the last taboos in a society that professes to be more connected than ever.
It took Bourne and producer/cameraman Daniel Dewsbury (pictured) four months of research to find the right contributors, whittled down from 500 people who were contacted. The key challenge, she says, was how to tackle the issue without making a miserable film. She’s done this by speaking to the young and old – a student, a young mum and a divorcee as well as older contributors. “Loneliness is almost as bad for young people as it is for their grandparents now. They are feeling disconnected. But they were the hard ones to get. They don’t like talking about it or admitting it.”
Bourne’s great skill as a documentary maker is pulling out the extraordinary from the apparently ordinary. She persaudes contributors to open up and tell stories that resonate with us all. “I do spend a long time getting to know them,” she admits.
She spent three months filming, all around the country. “I didn’t want it to be London-centric, I wanted to show that loneliness is everywhere.” The interviewees were filmed in their homes; Dewsbury used the new Sony FS7 and prime lenses. “This is not a point and shoot doc. This is beautiful portraiture of people in their space,” says Bourne.
Bourne accentuated the sense of loneliness everywhere by using a drone to film interviewees outside their homes – in towns, city suburbs and in the countryside: “It is like we are looking down on it on every street, in every community, in every part of the country.”
The Age of Loneliness airs tonight at 10.35 (7 January) on BBC1
The director of BBC1's War and Peace, Tom Harper, on the challenges of adapting Tolstoy’s classic novel for the small screen
Director Tom Harper’s credits include The Woman In Black 2, The Scouting Book for Boys, Peaky Blinders, Misfits and This is England ’86. For the past two years he’s worked on BBC1’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic War and Peace, from a script by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice). He directed all six episodes
How did you approach adapting such an epic novel? Reading the script and the book, it was very apparent to me that the characters still feel amazingly modern and vibrant – even though the book was written over 150 years ago. It felt very relatable to me living my life now. So I didn’t want to impose too much of a stylistic approach on it. I saw my role and my creative team’s role as bringing it to life for a contemporary audience, in as truthful a way as possible.
Were you influenced by the many other previous onscreen adaptations? I looked at the other very good adaptations – the (Sergei) Bondarchuk (1966) and the BBC (1972) versions. For all the wonderful things about them, they feel quite of their time. The Bondarchuk battle scenes are phenomenal, but I don’t think for a contemporary audience, after Saving Private Ryan, that you can just sit back and watch a battlefield from afar and for it to feel exciting. So you have to use a different visual language. If you are telling a story now, the audience expect different things – to feel like they are in it. It is about trying to convey what characters are experiencing and feeling at any given moment.
What were the key challenges for you as a director? The amount of preparation I needed to do. And also trying to keep it all in my head. There was so much going on, and so many different aspects to the shoot. It was also really hard just finding locations. In the UK we take for granted that we have all these historic houses that we haven’t touched for 500 years. Whereas in eastern Europe, that is not the case with two world wars and a revolution. That was why we were spread across three countries in the end.
And casting? The great thing about working on War and Peace is that people want to be involved with it. Working with great actors makes my job very easy.
What was it like shooting in Russia, Lithuania and Latvia? They all had different benefits and challenges. Russia has a different sort of infrastructure to the UK, and different working methods. And there is a language barrier. We often needed translators, which slows everything down. We had wonderful co-producers who made everything possible, like filming in St Petersburg outside The Winter Palace and at Catherine Palace. Naively, I thought we could turn up and be ready to go. But like every other modern city, St Petersberg has loads of traffic, street signs, cables and modern things that get in the way. But they gave us permission to close down streets, and film in the busiest areas. We also filmed during the white nights, when it is light all night. There’s a scene where Pierre is crossing the bridge in St Petersberg one evening. That was filmed at 1am in the morning. Lithuania had wonderful villages of wooden buildings, windmills, country roads and farms. And Lativa’s renovated Palace Rundale has lavish interiors which we used.
What did you shoot on? Arri Alexa. Digital cameras offer a lot of benefits: you can shoot a lot, you can shoot quickly, you can shoot repeat takes, and we had a lot to get through. We used anamorphic lenses, not for the aspect ratio, but for the focus fall-off. The DoP George Steel filtered quite heavily to give it the feel of a period film, referencing big movies of the past.
Did it require a lot of vfx? Quite a lot, mostly for things that don’t exist, like Moscow in 1805, which was burnt down. We also used vfx for the battle scenes, for the replication of soldiers and lots of smoke addition. And also to paint out wires and aerials and modern stuff. Every time you go outside there are a lot of challenging things to avoid for a drama set 200 years ago. You could either pick a tiny spot and shoot there and limit your frame size or you shoot wider. We wanted to go as wide as we could – it’s such a big story that we want to see St Petersberg and the locations as much as possible.
What about the scale of the production? The speaking cast was 130, but the biggest days would involve 400-500 extras. There was a huge logistical and filming crew too – and over 220 locations. We were in Russia for about three and a half weeks, Latvia for three weeks and Lithuania for the rest of the six month shoot.