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Interview: Damon Beesley, Fudge Park

The comparisons with The Inbetweeners, admits Damon Beesley, are inevitable.

After all, White Gold is the first comedy he’s written and directed since the global success of The Inbetweeners.

But White Gold, he says, is rather different. Beesley describes the show, about Essex double glazing salesmen in 1983, as a comedy drama – one that follows the outrageous highs and lows of its lead character, played by Ed Westwick. “The Inbetweeners was faster paced. I knew going into the next thing, it was not going to hit the joke rate.”

But there are plenty of similarities. Two of The Inbetweeners’ lead characters, Joe Thomas and James Buckley, also star. There are plenty of outrageous jokes too. Beesley also notes the parallels between a sixth form common room and a double glazing showroom, which he describes as being populated with stunted, competitive children living in an adult world.




Beesley says the idea for White Gold pre-dates The Inbetweeners. “It’s 35 years in the making,” he explains. His dad was a double glazing salesman in the 1980s and used to bring 12-year old Damon to the showroom. “It stuck with me. There’s a lot of my dad in it. He was in my head when I was writing it.”

Well received at its press screening last month, White Gold has a brilliant, filmic opening scene which sees Westwick preening himself for work (with copious hairspray) while listening to Laura Branigan’s 1980s hit Gloria, all the while making asides direct to camera. Beesley readily acknowledges the influence of Martin Scorsese’s similarly 1980s set The Wolf of Wall Street. “I watched it and thought this is the way you do it. You have to lean in to the character’s terrible behaviour.”

White Gold is the first outing for Fudge Park, the indie that Beesley set up in 2015 with fellow Inbetweeners creator Iain Morris. Fudge Park is also producing Ill Behaviour, written by Sam Bain (Peep Show) and is set to make its first movie for release next year.

White Gold airs on BBC2 tonight


Posted 24 May 2017 by Tim Dams

Behind the scenes: The Trial

Nick Holt and Kath Mattock, the directors of Channel 4’s The Trial, explain how they created a fictional court case to reveal the hidden complexities of a murder trial



Details
The Trial is a five-part hybrid drama doc series stripped across one week on C4 which aims to reveal the inner workings of the justice system. In it, a fictional crime is authentically tried by a team including QCs, a judge and a jury. The only actors include the accused – a man pleading not guilty for the murder of his wife - and some of the witnesses. It aims to reveal the inner workings of the justice system.

How did The Trial come about?
Nick Holt I’d previously spent nearly two years in Scotland researching and making The Murder Trial for Channel 4. I’d spent a great deal of time looking at cases and then contacting all those involved - from lawyers, to victims’ families, to the accused -seeking permission to film the trials. It was incredibly difficult getting all the consents needed. There were so many interesting cases sailing past our noses we couldn’t get to. So we created a fictional case.

Tell about your approach to making the film?
NH It was almost like making a nature documentary, we baited the traps, edged back, erected hides and shot the lawyers in their natural habit on the rig. As soon as the door of the court closed it was vital the trial – and court – behaved exactly like a real one. I’d seen a drama called Murder on the BBC and was fascinated about how they’d used documentary grammar in a fictional/drama setting. I contacted Kath Mattock, the producer, and we always ended up talking about the space between drama and documentary, what could one unlock in the other.

Kath Mattock I’m an avid watcher of documentary - I never feel like I know where it’s going to go. Drama narratively can feel very predictable and controlled, almost sealed off. The most recent drama I made, Murder for BBC2, which also involved intensive trial research, was all told in direct to camera testimony, CCTV and archive footage and was largely inspired by Errol Morris’ film The Thin Blue Line. This direct access to characters has an impact. It breaks the fourth wall of drama.



Tell us about the development process
NH We knew the two key aspects to this were seeing into the world of the lawyers and a jury. Both are entirely off limits as far as the UK legal system is concerned. We wanted a case that felt ‘normal’. With the help of writer Sarah Quintrell, we went for a case that jurors might see themselves in, a domestic setting rather than, say, a gang related murder. We kept as close to the real jury selection process as possible. In our case we filmed in a recently decommissioned Crown court in Newbury. We then sent letters to homes within that catchment area saying they’d been selected for jury service – the only difference being our letters referenced C4 rather than the CPS. We then had a large pool of potential jurors available during our shoot dates. As in real life, they turned up for jury selection and 12 names were randomly selected by the court clerk.

We wanted lawyers who were going to embrace the series. They needed to be comfortable with the premise (many weren’t) and willing to share the tricks of the trade. We were delighted with Max Hill QC and Michelle Nelson prosecuting and John Ryder QC and Lucy Organ defending. A very experienced judge would also be needed to oversee proceedings. We were incredibly fortunate to find the Rt Hon Brian Barker CBE QC who’d recently retired. No one alive has judged more murders at the Old Bailey.


How did you prepare for the shoot?

NH Preparation for filming was single handedly the biggest aspect of the production. For the lawyers to feel they were trying a real case, they needed all the evidential bundles they’d expect in a real case. We ended up creating some 800 pages of evidence with all the requisite witness statements, phone logs, CCTV material, forensic, police and SOCO material. We also had to cast the case. It was important we cast actors who could adapt to the live element of the court. Many of the witness were giving evidence live – unscripted – for hours on end. It was vital they, and their stories, could hold up to intense scrutiny.

KM We shot all the police interviews as improvised pre-trial as they had to be served as evidence along with all the CCTV which gave a real exciting sense of how this was going to come together. Led by ex-officers in real time, it gave a measure of what we were dealing with at two and three hour stretches.

The actors were totally immersed in their own timelines for the above and we refreshed this before we went into court. Each day in court had an actor pre-meet and was responding in some way as the trial evolved. The QCS approached it diligently and adversarially as they would a normal trial and day in court. As for the jury, they started out excited, then entered into the world of the story and the burden of decision took a real weight by the end. Shooting the scripted and the additional archive was relatively straight forward!

What were the key challenges of making it?
KM Staging the court case as a two week event that ran as close to a real trial as possible. It placed extraordinary demands on the actors. We rehearsed and developed the characters and story with the actors over a two week period.

What kit did you use?
NH We shot the courtroom on the rig. We used near 40 rig cameras throughout the building. As in real cases, there’s a great deal of personal phone, video and stills material. The drama scenes were shot on an Arri Alexa.

Did the series change significantly in post production?
KM Balancing the reveal of the story over five episodes and the balance of court experience to interview to exterior court room material was constantly evolving. Much of the density and detail of the story we had created just couldn't hold in five hours; the sheer volume of material was overwhelming for a period before it really started to take shape .

The Trial starts on Sunday 21 May at 9pm on C4

Broadcaster C4
Indie Dragonfly, part of Endemol Shine Group
Commissioning editors David Brindley, Amy Flanagan
Exec producers Jon Smith, Emma Loach
Directors Nick Holt, Kath Mattock
Series producer Hamish Fergusson 
Producer Andy Litvin
Writer Sarah Quintrell
Line Producer Kat Young
DOPs Simon Tindall, Carlos Catalan
Designer David Bryan
Editors Ben Brown, Richard Graham, Martin McDonnell, Simon McMahon, Chris Nicholls

Posted 18 May 2017 by Tim Dams

Televisual Salary Survey 2017: the results

Pay is always a contentious and divisive subject in TV and production. There’s little transparency or uniformity in pay across the industry, with many people earning different rates for the same job even at the same company.

The Televisual Salary Survey attempts to shed some light on the issue, asking our readers to let us know (anonymously) about their pay rates over the past year. We had over 600 replies to this year’s survey, which form the basis of calculations below.

It is important to stress that they are only a rough guide, given how widely pay can vary for each job. Broadcasting union Bectu is also a good source for minimum rates for certain key jobs.

First the headline findings. The median average annual earnings have risen since last year’s survey, up from £45k to £46.9k.


This 4.2% rise in pay chimes with the fact that the majority of our respondents (53%) say that their salaries have increased over the past year, while 33% say they have stayed the same and 14% that they have fallen.

The rise is likely driven by buoyant levels of production in the UK, with plenty of shows in production helping to support levels of pay, particularly in sectors such as drama and film.

Drama is comfortably the best-paid television genre, with a median salary of £55k, well above other genres such as news (£36.5k) or documentaries (£45k).

Meanwhile, commercials is the best rewarded of the production sectors with a median salary of £55k, above indie TV (£52.5k), film (£50k) or corporate (£40k).

Some of our survey respondents confirm the upward pay trend too. “In drama, salaries have risen with the increase in volume and scale of work,” reports one drama producer, who calls the rise “about time too” after a long period of stagnation.

A freelance editor adds: “Overall I feel that there’s a slow upward trend, or at least I’ve had less people arguing over rates and a more realistic approach to payment. It’s still a struggle to get BECTU minimums but more seem willing to adhere to them, or at least get near.”

Still, it’s surprising how little positive feedback about pay levels there is within the industry. Many say their earnings have risen after flat lining for years – and then only in return for doing much more.

Says one self-shooting director: “The downward pressure on salaries for shooting directors and shooting PDs has eased in the last 12 months or so with the possibility of negotiating small increases. But wages are still below where they where and where they should be considering the hours, the expectations, the responsibilities and the multiple roles performed (camera, sound, directing, producing...) all at once.”

There’s also a widespread belief that salaries have not increased equally. Many in production departments – such as producers, production managers, line producers and co-ordinators – complain that their pay has not increased in line with their editorial and technical counterparts.

Others complain about the “extortionate amounts’ paid to top levels of crew and to top talent. Many in post production also say they are the ones who are most feeling the downward pressure on programme budgets. “Editors pay hasn’t moved for 20 years,” says one editor. “The minimum BECTU rates are £305 per day. Many employers are coming way under, some by £50 a day.”

Pay rates in London still outpace those in the nations and regions too. The median pay in London is £50k; outside it is £40k. Our survey shows that the annual earnings of a London based producer director are £55k, while one in Bristol earns £52.9k. Meanwhile, a production manager in London might earn £52k, compared to one in Brighton on £36k.

The high costs of London, however, eat into any perceived pay advantages that the capital might have, say many respondents. “My wage might go up a little when I demand it, but the rising cost of rent and living in London means that my friends and I don’t feel any more well-off,” says one edit assistant on £25k. “My rent, despite being fairly low compared to others, is still over half of my take-home pay. I earn less than most of my friends who work outside of the industry.”

Pay levels at the entry level of the industry remain a huge cause of concern. Runners, for example, earn an average of £11k a year. Says one series producer (on £51k): “I think the pay for runners is shocking and it concerns me how often they work for less than minimum wage due to long hours on a weekly rate. I don’t allow this on my productions but am shocked how indies don’t seem to recognise this issue.”

One runner reports: “There are still companies offering work below National Minimum Wage. Last year, I was offered £425 a week for a rotating six day week on location for a prime time BBC1 programme, which is well known for doing 16-17 hour days. It is getting beyond tedious going to interviews and finding this is what a company thinks is acceptable.”

Many at the lower end of the pay scale say that production is rewarding only for the well connected few. One sound recordist says: “I never find enough work to live on.  A small percentage of professionals get the lion’s share of the work whilst others like me struggle to get a foot in the door.”

And it’s often those supported by the bank of mum and dad who can afford to stay in the business. Competition to break into the industry is so high that employers can offer low salaries knowing that a young person will take it. A runner laments: “The only runners who can afford to progress are the ones bankrolled by wealthy parents. These subsidised runners are our future producers. In 10 years time posh kids will rule TV and output will be one dimensional.”

Once again, the Salary Survey highlights that women tend to earn less than men. The median pay for a man is £51.2k, and £40k for a woman. It’s a source of much comment from female respondents to the survey. “I know that less qualified blokes earn more than me,” says one female AP.

A female producer adds: “Freelance women, particularly in the more junior editorial roles, generally ask for a lower rate than men due to less self-confidence in their experience/abilities and less desire to play hard ball on rates.”
This comment only emphasises how the production industry is one where there is huge variation as well as lack of clarity on pay rates. As such it naturally favours people who negotiate hard without knowing exactly what their counterparts are earning. But, hopefully, the Salary Survey has provided a little extra ammunition for that next negotiation.

How our pay survey works
Televisual emailed readers asking them to respond anonymously to our online salary survey. We asked what they were paid in 2016, and for details about their age, gender, job and geography. We had 615 responses in all.

The annual figures quoted in the article are based on median earnings. Some 53% worked full time for a single employer, and 42% were freelance. 48% worked in indie TV, 16% in post and 16% for a broadcaster. 57% of our respondents were men, 43% were women.




This article was first published in the March edition of Televisual. To subscribe, visit http://www.televisual.com/subscriptions.html

Posted 10 May 2017 by Tim Dams
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