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Production Technology Survey, 2017 - the full results

It can sometimes be very difficult to keep up. New cameras, editing kit and supporting technology are launched into the market each year, promising to enhance creative possibilities, bring down costs or boost productivity.

Televisual’s Production Technology Survey attempts to cut through this hype, asking our readers to tell us what they are using to make their shows – and which kit they rate.

We have focused on a number of key areas. First, we take the temperature of the rapidly evolving camera market. The big change this year is that Sony’s FS7 has eclipsed Canon’s C300 as the most popular model, with a now dominant position in factual production.

Next we focus on the take up of 4K and HDR. For the first time, more than half of our respondents said they have shot in 4K over the past year. HDR, meanwhile, looks set for a slow pick up; only 8% have been asked to deliver content in HDR, up slightly from 7% last year. It’s a similar story for virtual reality; very few of our respondents producing VR content.

We also look at the editing market. Here Avid Media Composer remains the leading software platform, but Adobe Premiere is gaining in popularity. Finally, we profile new and specialist kit that programme makers are using to enhance their productions, such as handheld stabilisers and drones.

To read the full Production Technology Survey, visit the Reports and Surveys section of televisual.com

Posted 17 August 2017 by Tim Dams

Lessons from MAMA

Diversity – or the lack of it – has become the big talking point in TV. Amid all the debate, one organisation, MAMA Youth Project, has been actively doing something about it – for the past ten years.

Set up as a charity in 2007, MAMA Youth takes a hands-on approach to boosting the numbers of disadvantaged people in television – not only people of colour, but all disadvantaged groups, black or white.

So far, 392 people have been trained by MAMA Youth, most through a 13-week course which sees them learn on the job while making Sky One youth magazine show What’s Up TV. The course runs twice a year. 24 entrants go through an intensive initial bout of training. They apply to train in one specific role such as production, camera, sound or editing. The training is provided by execs from companies such as the BBC, Sky, Endemol Shine and Procam. The group then work as a team under an experienced exec, producer and two APs to create 6x30-mins of What’s Up.

What’s Up is produced out of MAMA Youth’s offices, provided by Sky at its Osterley HQ. When Televisual visited, some of the trainees were working up ideas for the next show, from current affairs investigations to entertainment interviews. Others were cutting footage in the MAMA Youth edit suites.

98% of its participants, says founder Bob Clarke, get an immediate short-term contract in TV. And 82% are still in TV after 12 months. “For a freelance industry, that is good,” he points out.

Bella Lambourne, HR director at Endemol Shine UK, says MAMA Youth is ‘hugely valuable’ for the role it plays in attracting people from different backgrounds to the industry. The superindie offered 16 paid work placements to MAMA Youth students last year. She describes the people who come out of MAMA Youth as “much more work ready, capable and keen” than those who come in via other routes. 

MAMA Youth alumni Laura Rouxel, took the course in 2011. The course, she says, was ‘brilliant’, because students learn on the job. She’s now an AP on shows like Mock The Week.

An experienced TV editor, Clarke was inspired to launch MAMA Youth when a colleague commented to him that there were not enough black people in the industry. “The same person had said that to me about 20 years before. I thought, ‘I’ve been here for twenty years and what have I done about it?’”

One of the most important parts of the course, explains director of operations Cristina Ciobanu (who herself went through the MAMA Youth training programme) comes at the start – recruitment. MAMA Youth has on average 240 applicants for 24 places. Of these, 80 are interviewed. It is vital to understand what support they might need during the course, she says. Some might be homeless and living in a hostal, or be coping with depression, or may have recently come from prison. But the ones that make it through to the programme, she says, have one thing in common – the motivation to change their life and put in 100% effort.

Clarke began MAMA Youth very much on the fly, while working as a freelance editor and funding it out of his own pocket. He recruited his first group of talent back in 2005. Together, they produced the What’s Up show to broadcast standards for DVD. They met in hotel meeting rooms, and even restaurants. 10,000 copes of the DVD were given away free. “I thought we could get advertisers for the second show. But it didn’t work,” admits Clarke.

But he learned from the experience, and MAMA Youth re-emerged as an official charity in 2007, producing What’s Up for DVD. Slowly but surely, TV companies came knocking on MAMA Youth’s door. In 2010, the Community Channel asked to run What’s Up on its service. Then came a crucial meeting with former Sky md Sophie Turner Laing. It led, ultimately, to Sky acquiring the show in 2011 for Sky3. In 2015, it was commissioned by Sky 1.

MAMA Youth, stresses Clarke, doesn’t exist for the show. “We exist to get young people in to TV,” he explains. “The show is a by product of this.” The charity has also expanded its training, launching digital media workshops. Still, it’s a challenge for MAMA Youth to make ends meet. Sky and the BBC are its principal funders (it costs £600k to run the charity). Clarke would like to spread that financial burden more evenly through the industry, which he notes benefits from the work MAMA Youth is doing.

Meanwhile, MAMA Youth says it is putting in more effort to help alumni get on in the industry. Clarke says a big concern is the ‘exodus’ of BAME talent. “So many are leaving. Their credits and credentials are all good. But they see others bypass them for jobs. Something has to be done to stop the loss of talent.” While not a fan of quotas, Clarke thinks they might be needed to help BAME talent move into senior roles.

To date, he thinks diversity debates and schemes have had limited impact. And that, says Clarke, is what MAMA Youth is interested in. “In ten years time, we want to have made an impact on the industry.”

Profile: Bob Clarke
MAMA Youth founder Bob Clarke didn’t have a conventional route into TV. He joined the army at 17 – partly, he says, to avoid getting caught up in trouble. He stayed 14 years. “It taught me so much – that being hard was about more than fighting. It meant facing up to everyday challenges.”

After the army, Clarke got a job in a video duplication warehouse. Then came ‘a life changing moment,’ when he was offered the chance to train as a VT operator. “I knew what it meant – that I was on a career path and could earn a decent salary.”

That moment, says Clarke, is the essence of MAMA Youth and what motivates it to help others find a job in TV.

Clarke went on to work as an editor on light ent, news and docs, eventually setting up his own facility – MAMA Productions, which led to the formation of MAMA Youth.

Clarke’s spell in the army, meanwhile, underpins the training at MAMA Youth (which he describes as a ‘boot camp’). “The British army are the best trainers in the world.”

Posted 17 August 2017 by Tim Dams

Boom or bust for the UK studio sector?

For a business that is based on bricks and mortar, it’s notable how dynamic the studio sector is.

New studios are being developed in all corners of the UK – in Scotland (Pentland Studios), Wales (Wolf Studios Wales), Northern Ireland (Belfast Harbour) and England (Dagenham, Liverpool).

Meanwhile, existing studios are busy expanding. Pinewood recently applied for planning permission to build another three sound stages. This comes on top of the five it opened last July. Elstree has finance and approval for a 21,000 sq ft stage on its backlot area. It also intends to build a smaller stage of approximately 11,000 sq ft. Space Studios Manchester (formerly The Space Project) is in the midst of building a sixth stage, measuring 30,000 sq. ft.,  part of a £14m expansion plan. The BBC’s redevelopment of Television Centre will finish in September, with three TV studios returning to market.

However, this building boom is predominantly focused on sound stages for drama and film. Studio bosses are looking to make the most of record levels of film and drama production in the UK (which hit £2.1bn in 2016). “Business has continued to be buoyant”, says Fiona Francombe, site director of Bristol’s The Bottle Yard Studios, citing bookings such as Poldark, Trollied and Broadchurch. Twickenham Studios COO Maria Walker says: “We have hugely benefitted from the rise of high end television drama.”

By comparison, fully equipped TV studios – with galleries and shiny floors – are finding business more challenging. They may be busy, but many TV studio execs say that budgets for TV shows remain under pressure (although production aspirations are higher than ever) with studios taking a hit.

At the same time, running a TV studio is expensive; the cost of upgrading them to ever higher technical standards continues to rise.  It’s a very seasonal business too, with January and August notoriously quiet months; demand reaches a peak in June and July, then October and November.

Television studios say they are having to squeeze in ever more shows and to work harder to make a decent return.

Many well known TV studios, like Fountain and Teddington, have closed after being sold to property developers – an indication that its owners think they can make more money elsewhere.The London Studios also closes next year when ITV redevelops the space. 

“The closure of those studios proves how challenging it is,” says Pinewood’s head of TV Sarah McGettigan.

Pinewood’s three dedicated TV studios are consistently busy, making shows such as Would I Lie To You. But Pinewood hasn’t gained a huge amount of work as a result of the London studio closures, McGettingan adds. That’s partly due to scheduling issues – with so many shows wanting to shoot at the same, peak times of the year, it’s very difficult to fit in any more into a finite space.

Over at Elstree Studios, managing director Roger Morris agrees that the studio hasn’t seen a huge uplift as a result of the closures, adding that the studios have been busy for the past five years. Elstree partners with BBC Studioworks, which provides technical facilities and expertise for shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Let It Shine which are made at the studio. “We provide the stages, and the BBC provides the kit and technical infrastructure,” says Morris. “It works very well.”

Elstree is also home to dramas like The Crown. Morris says the drama boom has been welcome, particularly as it has made up for a collapse in lower budget film production. But, he notes, not all TV dramas are heavy users of studios – many will be based at a studio, but will shoot on location.

BBC Studioworks plans to maintain a strong presence at its own Elstree base when Television Centre reopens in September. It has already confirmed its first booking: The Jonathan Ross Show.

Head of studios John O’Callaghan says TVC will be a turnaround facility, aiming to record as many days a week as possible by re-setting overnight. “The key is having a good balance of long-term shows which can be in the studios for many weeks and also fast turnaround topical shows.”

What’s clear, though, is that much of the growth in studios comes from drama and film. Many would concur with Adrian Bleasdale, chief executive of Space Studios Manchester: “It’s incredibly busy,” he says.

The primary competition for Space Studios Manchester is warehouses on industrial estates which have been adapted for filming. For example, a former council depot in Hartlepool is set to be converted into a film studio. Screen Yorkshire has converted a former aircraft hangar at Church Fenton into a studio, home to ITV hit Victoria. Bleasdale stresses that producers have to think ‘beyond just the box of the studio’ when selecting a studio space. He says that Space Studios Manchester offers its own ‘ecosystem’ for film and TV – from art departments to medics and camera and lighting hire.  As a purpose built studio, he points out that its sound stages are “super silent air-conditioned and acoustically treated for reverberation and noise ingress.”

Over at Pinewood, corporate affairs director Andrew Smith says the company is seeing “sustained growth in film and high end TV”. He worries about new studios being built in all corners of the UK, saying that the industry should “build on existing centres of excellence” and is in danger of “spreading the jam too thin.” Looking ahead, Smith identifies skills shortages as a risk for the industry. “This needs to be addressed immediately.”

But like many of his counterparts, Smith is quietly optimistic about the year ahead. “The level of productions that are being made and coming down the line is encouraging.”

This article is taken from Televisual's 2017 Studio Report. To see the full report, which has profiles of the UK's top studios, visit the reports and surveys section of televisual.com.

Posted 10 August 2017 by Tim Dams
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