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The Bad Education Movie: how we made it

Director Elliot Hegarty and producer Ben Cavey tell Jon Creamer how they took BBC3 comedy Bad Education to the big screen

Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education, the BBC3 sitcom about incompetent teacher Alfie Whickers and 
his badly behaved pupils, came to an end on the small screen last year. But this month, the show gets its movie debut. Producer Ben Cavey and director Elliot Hegarty explain how they took it to the big svreen.

How do you transform a TV series into a movie?
EH The greatest fear for a TV show going to the big screen is that it doesn’t feel like a movie but just an extended episode. Our conversations were about expanding this world so it doesn’t feel like we’d forced a small story on to the big screen.
BC There have got to be clear reasons that this is a movie and is offering something that TV doesn’t. There’s a lot of content you wouldn’t be able to do on the BBC – outrageous moments we would have struggled to get past. There’s an edginess to it. And there’s obviously a scale to it that comes from the budget and a bigger narrative than we could do in thirty minutes.

What about in terms of production values?
EH The reality of the shoot is you’ve got the same restrictions on money. You’ve only got a few crane shots so it’s about choosing when they’re going to be most useful. One of the main differences in a movie is you expect to see more extras, it’s a subconscious thing. We had to make sure we had enough people in the streets and beaches and schools. Aside from that it was serve the script as well as possible and have confidence in the script being a more cinematic story.

Do you have to be careful not to lose what was good about the TV show?
EH Yes, so the story does start in the school and in terms of the shooting style we wanted to slowly develop what people loved about the show into a movie. I wanted to shoot it in a way where it starts very much like the TV show – very handheld, very chaotic with lots of frenetic movement and then as the story develops it becomes more of an action piece. We calmed the camera down and the lenses got longer, the camera height got lower. It was equally dynamic but more track and dolly. We had to lure people in to Bad Education the movie rather than Bad Education the TV show.

Was post production very different?
EH The post process was the main difference. Our aspirations with certain effects and music meant we had to upscale the post and we were fortunate to work with people like Double Negative and Goldcrest. We needed crazy effects that had to match up to our Hollywood counterparts. It’s not good enough for it to be done by some bloke on a computer in Enfield, it has to be done to a certain spec otherwise people will be upset they paid 15 quid. We went into Goldcrest and graded with Rob Pizzey. That felt like a film to me, grading it in this wonderful huge suite.

Is there more pressure when making a movie?
BC It’s a big weight you carry – wanting people to feel that they’ve got their money’s worth. You work very hard to make sure everything’s on screen in every way. Tiger Aspect and Cave Bear have invested everything themselves in the movie. We’re not taking fees, everything been rolled into go on screen and make it as big as possible. We are as deep into this gamble as everyone else is.

Was it hard to find the budget?
BC The tricky thing is because the brand already exists and there’s a star attached, people think it’s a dead cert. So you can go to institutions that you would expect to be supporting a low budget British movie and you can really struggle. Nigel Green [from Entertainment Film Distributors] really supported it. Between them and Tiger they picked up the deficit I expected to be covered by others.

How big was the budget?
BC The budget wasn’t huge. We had to focus and work long hours and lots of days a week. We went to war in the same way we got to war in the TV show. The Inbetweeners was famously the fastest shot film of its type and we did it two weeks faster.
EH The shoot was just as stressful if not more so. We had very little prep time. We got greenlit very shortly before the start of the shoot and we had a five week window because of Jack’s availability. If we didn’t shoot it then, it would never happen. With only a few weeks to go we had no locations, few crew, half the cast and half the money. We thought ‘fuck it, let’s go for it.’ That seems to be how the British film industry works.

In the movie adaptation of Bad Education, teacher Alfie Whickers takes his class on a post GCSE school trip to Cornwall where they end up getting involved in a bid to make the county an independent state
Production Cave Bear Productions, Tiger Aspect, Entertainment Film Distributors
Director Elliot Hegarty
Writers Freddy Syborn, Jack Whitehall
Producers Ben Cavey, 
Pippa Brown
Executive producerNigel Green
Co-producerSarada McDermott
DoP Pete Rowe
Editor Peter Oliver
Colourist Rob Pizzey
Vfx DNeg TV
Casting Sarah Crowe
Production designer Simon Rogers
Music Vince Pope
Post-production supervisor Mike Morrison
Production manager Brett Wilson
Cast Jack Whitehall, Iain Glen, Harry Enfield, Matthew Horne, Joanna Scanlan, Sarah Solemani, Marc Wooton
Camera Arri Alexa

Posted 27 August 2015 by Jon Creamer

Interview: director Brian Hill

Director Brian Hill is celebrating 21 years of his indie Century Films with a new movie and a retrospective of his work. Jon Creamer reports

Documentary director Brian Hill has clocked up a CV stuffed with award winners by tackling serious subjects in surprising ways.

He’s now celebrating the 21st birthday of his indie Century Films with a retrospective of his work at the Bertha DocHouse and the release of his film The Confessions of Thomas Quick, a feature documentary about a Swedish prisoner who confessed to a series of chilling murders.

Hill made his name in TV but, he says, he knew “right away” that Thomas Quick was a theatrical piece. “The stakes are so high, the story is so dramatic,” he says adding that there’s an easier route to cinema for documentary now. “There is an acceptance that there are different ways to get docs out there than just TV. In other countries that’s always been the case. We’ve been spoiled in this country with several broadcasters who really believe in documentary and promoted and funded it.” But that landscape may be changing, he reckons. “People who want to make certain films aren’t finding that possible for TV so are turning to cinema.” And there are advantages to cinema. “People have paid their money, they’re not going to walk out after a minute, so you can allow the story to build. A lot of TV is about underestimating the audience. With this you can let people figure it out themselves.” Not that cinema is a route to riches. “Making feature docs is not the way to make money.”

To make the film, Hill secured access to both Thomas Quick and those who treated him and investigated his claims. No easy feat as those involved had experienced years of ridicule in their home country. But then Hill has always managed to persuade people to tell their stories on screen – prisoners and porn stars among others, while often persuading them to do it in song. Gaining trust is the key. “Often it’s about how you approach people. You let them know you won’t take the piss or belittle them. People ask ‘Will you make me look stupid? My response is ‘I won’t but you might make yourself look stupid if you say or do stupid things so you should really think about whether you want to be in the film.’”

People are more wary now, he says. And that’s down to a “regrettable tendency to take people’s stories and use them as entertainment.” And there needs to be a better reason than that. “If you’re making docs you have a certain obligation to explore issues that are socially relevant and important. I couldn’t make stuff that has no meaning or importance.” Over the years he’s made films about “family break up, prostitution, alcoholism, drugs, murder, rape, domestic violence. I did make a film about Robbie Williams that came at a time when I needed a bit of light relief from all the other stuff.”

But despite a lot of the subject matter being serious, his approach has often been playful. He’s perhaps best known for inventing the documentary musical alongside poet Simon Armitage. He’s just editing his latest set in a school within a Mumbai slum. “For the final song we’ve got a thousand kids all singing and dancing. It’s the world’s first ever Bollywood style musical documentary.” The form sprang from the fact that “people have been telling stories though song for thousands of years, we still are with musicals so why can’t documentary use that? Who says that all documentary has to be ob doc?” And it also makes the subjects of the documentary less like ‘subjects’. “You can feel uncomfortable about making documentaries of people’s lives and them being subjects of yours. If you put them in a musical they become part of the project. They’re creative collaborators.”

He’s not so keen to leap into other new forms of documentary like rig shows though. “I can’t imagine it’s something I’d want to do though some of them can be really good. But I don’t think it’s necessarily more intimate. All sorts of intimate scenes have been shot by people with crews.” Though he would love Century to make series with a rig shows’ returnability. “We thought we had that with The Secret History of Our Streets” which ran for two series on BBC2. “I thought that was going to be our Who Do You Think You Are? But nobody wants it any more. It’s extraordinary really. It was critically well received, it won awards, people watched it.” A returner “gives you security,” he says.

And that’s important for an indie that’s still resolutely independent. “There’s probably not many indies that have been around as long as we have that are independent still. I like that. I know lots of people who’ve sold. They like the money but they’re unhappy about becoming just an employee of shareholders. I don’t think I could do that. I’ve been my own boss for 21 years.” And free to not make the programmes he doesn’t want to make. “I’d rather do something else for a living than make rubbish.”

Brian Hill launched his production company Century Films 21 years ago this autumn. He has been a documentary innovator throughout that time directing the ‘first docusoap’ Sylvania Waters and pioneering the documentary musical with films like Drinking for England and the BAFTA-winning Feltham Sings. Other films from the Century stable include The Not Dead, which tells the legacy of war through three generations of soldiers, and the recent The Secret History of our Streets series. His film The Confessions of Thomas Quick opened in August

Don't forget to book your tickets to the Televisual Factual Festival - more details at

Posted 27 August 2015 by Jon Creamer

Making Big Blue Live

Big Blue Live exec producer James Honeyborne explains how his team is making the live natural history special for BBC1 charting the annual gathering of wildlife in California’s Monterey Bay

What’s the programme about? 
It’s the story of a gathering that happens at a very special place that’s peaking in the next couple of weeks. It’s a unique moment in history as well. 60 years ago Monterey Bay was pretty much devastated by pollution and overfishing. All the animals had been hunted to near extinction. The revival of this coast line is an amazing good news story as well.

Why make it a live show?
I think live brings you something very different. We can take the audience whale watching live in real time and that’s something on most people’s bucket lists. There’s an experiential element to it. This will be the closest you can get to going on a scientific expedition in real time. And this gathering of animals is an event. We have a long tradition of covering events live. We don’t know quite what’s going to happen but that’s part of the frisson of excitement for the audience.

Does the experience of Springwatch help 
with something so different?
There’s a wealth of experience both in production but also on the technical end of things too. We need to take all our learning from that but this is different, everything’s different when you get into the ocean. The weather and the sea state will affect where we can be but just like Springwatch there’s a lot of great content to cover. We have to be flexible. We have a depth of content, which I think is reassuring.

Are you confident you’ll see enough sea life?
Some animals are more guarantee-able than others. We have three sea otter mothers that have given birth in recent weeks right in front of the aquarium. We’ve got sealions on the harbour breakwater just across the bay, there are Pelicans and Shearwaters. Some things we see every single day.
This year the fish shoals are coming very close to shore. We literally had them under the windows of our offices yesterday so a lot of the action is close to shore. We filmed a whale coming right into the harbour to feed the other day and it actually got stuck under a boat. There are opportunities we will seek that are more challenging. It would be amazing if we could see some of the big whales live, we stand a reasonable chance with that.
Is there infrastructure there already you can use?
There’s a lot of good science happening out here that is based on new technology. They have the bay covered in terms of hydrophones and cameras. There are people who have remote cameras on the sea bed picking up sharks as they swim past. There are scientists here who are even putting cameras on to some of the larger whales. Drones have been used to study some of these animals from the air which is great because with whales, when you’re looking down into the water you can see the length of the whole animal which is so impressive.

What will you attempt to show live?
We will always prioritise live and try to have live encounters with the wildlife but as with all live shows we will have elements of pre-recording. You want that to set up back stories and give context. We’re hoping to see animals live from the air, the surface of the water and under the water. We are planning to have live aerials scouting for things in the bay. Who knows what we might see? We might see giant sunfish, great white sharks, all sorts of creatures coming to this gathering. In addition to that we’ve got a boat that will be whale watching live and we are even doing some live dives in the kelp forest. We are absolutely trying to cover this place and I think that between us and the science that’s going on here it gives us a good degree of confidence were going to see some amazing animals.

Posted 27 August 2015 by Jon Creamer

The Art of VFX

Creativity, tech know-how and a cool head. Four of the UK's leading visual effects supervisors – among them two Oscar winners – explain the art of their craft

On Terminator Genisys, two weeks after winning the work I was on a plane to New Orleans where they were filming. You’re present on set in order to advise the client side super as to what we need and to acquire stills, bits of information, video, a whole host of different things. We had a good two thirds of the film so I was out there for the duration.

It’s a creative process, we’re not building a car. If something doesn’t work or the story changes you have to adapt to that and vfx is usually the one that is leant on. It’s a very instant answer whereas building a new bit of set is not so accommodating.

Yes, there is a better understanding of vfx but there’s the general notion that vfx can do anything. To a degree it can but I’m a very firm believer that it doesn’t necessarily mean we should. In most cases you should get as much as you can in the can then we’ll do the rest in vfx when you physically can’t do it. I still believe in using miniatures for certain things, sometimes they look great and real. I also believe in building fantastic sets. It gives the actors something to work with. Cg does look photo real but if you really get into the spot the ball competition you can’t beat the real deal.

You’ve got to be honest and say to a director, yes you can do this in vfx but if you can I’d advise you to build a bit of set or get something that’s practical because then you get something in the can and we can always enhance it if need be. To create from scratch, vfx is not cheap. It takes a huge amount of time. Also there’s a misnomer on set that vfx takes no time at all but it’s a crew of 500 for a year.

Back in the day vfx was just about ‘copy this board, copy that shot, job done.’ These days because huge sequences are pure vfx we have a lot of creative control. The director is not there at that stage to direct us so we have to do that ourselves along with the client side super and then suggest things to the editor. You are doing filming to a degree. You’re directing, designing and editing, which is great. Now we have a live art department throughout the entire film. When the production art department finishes we carry or right to the very end. There’s a lot more vfx and you’re creating characters and environments and this stuff all needs to be designed.

People skills is a big thing, you have to keep positive in this industry. These projects go through some very tough times and it’s quite stressful so you’ve got to keep upbeat. You have to be accommodating of everyone’s opinion. It’s a group led creative process but I’m aware also of being that one voice when dealing with the client.


It feels like we’re there very early in the whole process and practically the last ones at the end. You need to have an overview of the whole movie experience.

On set, you need to make sure the shots in the vfx sequences will have the right impact or you’ll end up creating an entirely vfx shot that does have that impact instead. We can replace a lot of shots these days, more pressure will come to do that if the initial photography wasn’t what was wanted. But that pushes up the vfx budget. That’s budget that isn’t magically there, it has to come from somewhere else.

Rarely is there a time when it’s OK to leave the crew to it. Crews are becoming extremely savvy about vfx and they will correctly guess the right process a lot of the time. The danger is they will go ahead without you if you’re not on set. Seven out of ten times they’ll get it right.

There’s an assumption that the more vfx that get shot the more money there will be to do them, but actually the budget is set and we’re trying to minimise the number of vfx to make sure we get money on the screen where it really counts.

You try to make an agreement about what will be vfx and what will not. It can become very difficult to say ‘no, you can’t shoot it that way because we didn’t plan to do that’. Some shoots by their very nature get changed. That’s the nature of the way filmmakers work. You don’t want to limit their creativity so it is a fine balance.

In post the involvement the director has enjoyed by standing behind the camera talking to his actors starts to dissolve a little bit because the digital work he’s commissioned has a much slower turnaround. They’re busy doing directors cuts, ADR, sound mixing, scoring a lot of other stuff. The slow process of vfx is not often something they want to be too involved in so the vfx super starts to inhabit the role of proxy director. It is like a second unit so the supervisor has to consider what the director would shoot in the same way the second AD does. There is an directorial aspect to it, especially if you’re creating characters. Then you have to get into the head of the director and think about what they’re after. Scheduling time with the director and encouraging them to get involved is important.

The key thing is to establish a good relationship with the director, the 1st AD, and the DoP. Be clear up front about what you require, but be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances. Feed your requirements into the 1st AD as soon as possible but also look to save them time if there is an opportunity. If there is an element that is key to achieving the desired result, you have to make sure you get it. However, if it merely saves you time in post, be willing to let it go if needs be. Understand the demands that the 1st AD is under and you’ll get on fine.
I’m usually sat next to or within earshot of the director and DoP for most of the shoot. You need the DoP on your side, as they can suggest solutions on the day, which can make the post work easier.

Lighting is the one thing that can’t be changed afterwards so get a good dialogue with the DoP – if the scene has been lit in a way that doesn’t seem right for post, you need to listen to why the DoP has lit it that way and then make a call as to whether you ask for it to be changed. It’s easy to obsess about what looks real, whereas the DoP is making it look beautiful – you need to get the balance right and here the relationship with the director is key.
I often advise people going on shoots to sit and look at the monitor and imagine that what they are seeing has just been loaded into the post-production suite. You then look at it with a more critical eye – it’s easy to be seduced by what you see when looking through the lens.

Being a vfx supervisor requires being able to think on your feet, an ability to adapt to fast changing circumstances, patience, knowing when to kick up a fuss and when to take a step back. And having more than one alarm clock!

Once the job is awarded we work closely with production and client to make sure we are as organised as possible before the shoot. We will be involved in the PPM process if required and will be briefed usually by the director. We will often have our team working on concept drawings, CGI builds, pre visualisation and concept testing long before the shoot.

On a more technical production we will often build a pre visualisation of either a whole commercial or selected shots. This will be done in CG, and will be based on real world information from locations and set builds. This is invaluable in conceptualising each shot. It gives everybody a clear idea of what we will be capturing and also how to capture it. We will quite often be able to export all this data from our CGI package straight to a Motion Control team. With some tweaking this gives them a running start in recreating this shot on set.

The moment I walk on set I go straight to the 1st AD and introduce myself. He or she will be your most important colleague on set. They will be the one to get you everything you need. This could be the infamous ‘Clean Plate’ at the end of a lengthy set up when the producer is stressing to move on. Or an alternate exposure plate, element pass or a rushed HDR image set (which if I don’t get my CG guys will kill me!) Inversely, I really do try to help them keep the fluidity of the shoot. Only asking for post essentials, and judging when I can miss something unessential.

A detailed understanding of all things 2D and CGI is imperative. It really helps to dissect the shot in your head and think how you would reconstruct it once you get into the suite. Then you know you have got everything covered.

It is a plus if you have good communication skills and can give a definitive answer when someone asks you, yes or no? There is no room for...’um, let me think about that’. It can be stressful on shoots when things take a left turn. Production and agency side look to us to give a confident, measured response and to keep calm when people are stressed out around you. There is a delicate balance in spreading your time and attention director and client side. I like to keep everyone in the loop 100% of the time and I make sure everyone knows I am thinking about what both sides require.

Posted 07 August 2015 by Jon Creamer

Will post production stay in Soho?

Soho has long been the indisputable centre of the post production world in London – whether for films, commercials or television.

But now more than a few companies have started to trickle outwards from that centre to form new pockets of post. Some have gone east and now nuzzle up to the new media start ups that have sprung up around Old Street’s digital roundabout. Because of Soho’s powerful gravitational pull, outfits like Splice and Time Based Arts seemed like brave pioneers for setting up shop in what is, after all, just another bit of London a little bit up the road.

And while those pioneers don’t represent a flood, it’s a trend that has some serious pressure behind it.

Scrubbing up
Soho, like much of central London, and like many of the central and very fashionable parts any big UK city right now, is changing.

Property prices, and commercial rents are rising at an astonishing rate. No grimy backstreet is immune from the unstoppable force of gentrification and for Soho’s grimy back streets, that goes double.

For businesses beyond the post world, the broom has already swept through. The Save Our Soho campaign is a desperate rearguard attempt by a coalition of performers and long term residents to try to keep at least some of the area’s iconic performing arts venues alive. Many of the basement bars, strip clubs and ‘models upstairs’ that made Soho such a grubby but always interesting place have already been swept away under a tidal wave of design led restaurants and duplex apartments. Jeffrey Bernard is dead.

Those same pressures exist on the post world too – because residential flats and restaurants make more money for landlords than businesses do.

Eastern promise
Raised by Wolves, the company formed by Tareq Kubaisi and Jon Hollis, has a Soho address but is one company seriously thinking about a move out east to join the Shoreditch gang. “30 years ago, Soho felt like it was a big video and film industry now it feels like a bunch of restaurants and tourists,” says Hollis. “It doesn’t feel like the industry’s here any more. It’s boutique hotels, restaurants, everything will get paved soon. The Mill’s old building is a Wagamama now.”

Colourist Kubaisi agrees: “Small companies like ours have to make a big commitment to stay here. Out east it’s a bit more interesting. There are great agencies out there too. It’s a different social atmosphere. In the last ten years Soho has become a bit bridge and tunnel. You need a stimulating environment. Maybe I’m just getting old but Soho is becoming less stimulating, a bit generic. It’s a lot tidier but the spark is going.”

The Mill moved last year from its Great Marlborough Street location in Soho after 24 years to Windmill Street in Fitzrovia. London md Darren O’Kelly reckons the move out of Soho has “re-energized The Mill London to a certain extent” due to “being in a part of London that has a relaxed, local community neighbourhood. It’s cool without being hipster. It’s an area that has start-up businesses and not been totally overrun by chains. Our next door neighbor is a guy that makes bespoke leather products, and that’s inspiring. Much like when you sell your first flat or house you think you’re going to miss it, but once you’re in your new pad you can’t believe you didn’t do it sooner. So I’m loving it and I’m pretty sure our staff and clients are loving it too.”

MPC’s senior EP, Jonathan Davies agrees that Soho is undoubtedly changing “Soho is going more residential so a lot of business is being pushed out by landlords. It was nice that it used to be a little bit seedier. It’s becoming a lot more foodie and touristy. It is losing a bit of its character but it’ll be fine.”

Because, he says, the essential creative buzz of Soho still exists. “There’s a creative vibe here as well. Clients not based in Soho like to come in to Soho.” And there’s still that post community feel. “On this street [Wardour Street] there’s Nice Biscuits, Finish and a few others. There’s us this side of Oxford Street and  Framestore, The Mill and  D Neg the other.”

Soho or bust
But a major pull is simply that for clients “it’s just assumed that you’re here in the middle of town,” says Davies. “We’re an established brand and though there are companies in Shoreditch and a few film vfx houses out west, generally everyone’s in Soho or just across in Noho. It kind of doesn’t make sense to be here in terms of cost but everyone expects you to be here and the workforce expects to work here.”

Though a smaller player than MPC, Coffee and TV also reckons Soho is still essential despite the high rents on its Kingly Street studio. “I don’t think you can afford to be anywhere else,” says md Derek Moore. Because although agencies tend to be spread a little wider than central Soho “by being central you open it up to everyone who’s coming through. As long as you’re near restaurants or sound houses and editing companies, however expensive it is we need to be here.”

And besides, says Moore, it’s not always cost effective to move somewhere cheaper. “If you look at the cost per year of your rent and what you would save by being in Shoreditch, that probably adds up to two or three large-ish jobs. Your opportunities are substantially better by being here rather than there overall. I think moving is shortsighted.”

And there’s also the fear that the big talent might not come with you either. “In Shoreditch or Farringdon, you could be a lot more cost effective , but would you attract the top guys?” says Moore. “Unless they happen to live east already they’re not going to schlep past The Mill, Framestore and Electric Theatre to get further out.”

And for big players, moving anywhere is prohibitive. “Technically we could do it but in terms of shifting everything further away the costs of that would just make it not worthwhile,” says MPC’s Davies. “The infrastructure’s been here so long and relocating that’s not simple.”

I need some space
But there is another big pull away from Soho, and that’s architecture. The Mill’s move was at least partly fuelled by the desire to  “embrace a new, more open-space way of working” as O’Kelly puts it. Soho is defined by its close streets and Victorian town houses. And so most commercial property is made up of small rooms linked by stairways. That was fine in a different age, but post houses and their clients are now embracing a more open plan studio approach. MPC’s modern building in Wardour Street allows that but not much of Soho does (hence The Mill’s move across Oxford Street.) “Traditionally you’d have lots and lots of suites but we’re breaking that up into more open plan areas.,” says MPC’s Davies. “The technology and the client needs shape your building. There’s less machine room, you don’t make many tapes now there’s more open plan project areas. Years ago everyone was really obsessed with confidentiality. Any discussion of a job and you’d be in a little room. Clients are more chilled out about coming in and having an informal chat about projects and they’ll see other clients in which they like. It’s more relaxed in that sense.”

And that fuels much of the desire to move east too. “There’s not much price difference out east but it’s the kind of space you can have,” says Raised by Wolves’ Hollis. “Most of the buildings here are Victorian with small floors and tons of stairs. It’s not ideal. I’d rather we were all on one big floor. Out east you’ve got warehouse floors - all the old rag trade stuff.”

But in the end, it may be more contemporary ways of working that could mean more companies choose to stay in Soho. The increasing possibility of having artists working remotely means a Soho base needed be that large, or that expensive. “Lots of artists live all over and they come in when they need to, often at the start when we brief a job, and then they go back and work remotely,” says Coffee & TV’s Moore. “So we can afford to keep the Soho space small.” 

“That’s one of the reasons we’re holding off a little bit,” says Kubaisi. Because if remote working really takes off “this place works beautifully.”

P.S. for a look at Soho back in 1956, check out this fabulous footage on the BFI Player

Posted 09 July 2015 by Jon Creamer

The Outcast: Behind the scenes

For BBC1’s The Outcast, film director Iain Softley decided to make a big movie for the small screen. Jon creamer reports

Director Iain Softley has spent the best part of his career making movies including K-PAX, The Wings of the Dove, Hackers and Backbeat. So was directing a BBC1 two parter a big learning curve?

You’ve spent your career in movies, did you question the idea of making a TV drama?
It was a question in my mind before I read the script. The big attraction was that I was making something I really wanted to make and I was aware immediately of the positives. The process of greenlighting and casting would be much quicker and there would be more freedom. Creative decisions are to the fore in that it’s fully financed by the BBC. They didn’t need to test it commercially in the market whether that’s for the script or the casting.

Did you approach it differently to a movie?
I just saw it as either two 90-minute films or a long film in two parts. I approached it as a movie. In my mind it had the same scale from the way we shot it to the score and the sound design. The generalisation is movies tend to be shot with wider shots and television is more of a close up medium. But things like True Detective are shot like a film. Close ups are not used as much as in the past. And I was making it for a film company and BBC Films as well. We all approached as a film for TV.

But you have to move along more quickly in TV?
A lot quicker. But then in America I was just doing a low budget film – as more and more independent films are in the States. I’d just shot a 90-minute film in four weeks albeit a more simple shoot than The Outcast. On The Outcast I did two 90s in eight weeks. It is very demanding. I don’t think it’s something I could have done at the beginning of my career. I was drawing on experience and tricks of the trade I’d learned along the way in order not to compromise.

But some scenes have obviously had time spent on them?
It’s important that for the moments that were complex emotionally or technically or visually that we didn’t cut corners, for example the drowning scene. I spent a lot of time on those scenes – as long as I would have done on a bigger schedule, which meant other scenes had to be shot even more quickly. If they’re rushed those scenes don’t land.

There’s a different look to the different periods in the show? For memories of childhood a lot of the time I used film. We shot on 35mm, which is softer but also more colourful because film has a bigger colour range. Also I used a hand-cranked camera where you can vary the speed. There’s a dream like effect you get that is difficult to replicate with post effects. But about three quarters of the film is HD.

What look were you after?
I wanted it to be graphic. Digital can be rather muddy – either that or quite brash. I wanted the intensity of colour that you get from film and partly we got that by colouring the backgrounds at the locations.  Mike [Eley, the DoP] came on a lot of the locations for that reason. We repainted the Aldridge house with a deep turquoise blue. Blue appears sharper anyway and it meant the characters were more graphic and more defined against it. I also wanted the house to feel empty after the death of the mother so I wanted the rooms to be big so we could shoot through rooms and the actors could move within the scenes.

What did you shoot on? 
We shot on an Alexa and an Amira and we used the oldest lenses we could find. They’re just more optically interesting, less digital looking. In digital there’s almost an edge enhancement feel. You get a combination of both sharpness and diffusion with the old lenses and it’s actually a more realistic look. It’s less hyper real and more actually real.

Where was the post done?
At Molinare. I used Ewa J Lind as the editor. She’s Swedish and even though it’s a very English subject matter I didn’t want it to be feel culturally and narrowly English. The sound post was at Molinare. We had a fantastic team. Nigel Squibbs led the mix and sound designer Jeremy Price did a great job. They got excited by the idea that it was a filmic approach. We mixed it and track laid it as if we were doing it for a film. It’s very multi-layered and complex and I was keen for Jeremy and my composer Ed Shearmur to work together. Because the soundscapes go inside Lewis’s head I wanted it to be a mixture of effects and music so there was an interesting crossover.

The Outcast is scheduled to TX in July on BBC1

The Outcast is a 2x90-minute adaptation of Sadie Jones’ novel for BBC1. It tells the story of a young boy in the post war years who faces a terrible family tragedy and the fallout that follows for him and those around him
Production Blueprint Pictures
BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore, ex-BBC drama head Ben Stephenson
Executive producers  Christine Langan and Beth Pattinson for BBC and Pete Czernin and Graham Broadbent for Blueprint Pictures.
Producer  Celia Duval
Writer Sadie Jones
Director Iain Softley
Cast George Mackay, Hattie Morahan, Greg Wise, Jessica Brown Findlay
Art director Keith Pain
Production manager  Beth Timbrell
Composer Edward Shearmur
DoP Mike Eley
Costume designer  Louise St Jernsward
Production designer  Richard Bullock
Editor Ewa J Lind
Colourist  Asa Shoul
Post supervisor  Alistair Hopkins
Arri Alexa and Amira

Posted 07 July 2015 by Jon Creamer

The art of the edit

The edit suite is where the story finally comes together in its polished and perfected form. In advance of EditFest London, Televisual asks five of the UK’s top editors about their creative approach

My process goes back to editing Super 8 films as a child. I work moment-for-moment so I work with my team to log as much as possible about each slate and take, so I can jump to any variance in line reading, gesture or character’s movement. It’s a lot of prep but makes the initial assembly come together in the most fluid way for me personally.

A film high on visual effects like my current project begins a year before the shoot starts, often long before the project is even green-lit by the studio. A more conventional shoot like my last film begins on day one of shooting. I like both routes as my enjoyment of the process is based upon the story and the talent around me rather than whether there are any visual effects involved.  Also, I think every crew member thrives on the need for something new and different in a new job.  Every film brings new creative, logistical, political and social opportunities.

Taking direction
Some directors will sit with you through dailies and give specific notes each day. Others will give more generic notes and wait to see what you put together.  Either way has its merits and either way brings that variety that keeps us all fresh. Some directors like to sit through every scene, shot by shot while others like to give notes at the beginning of the day and return the next morning.  I wouldn’t say that editing is part of the directing process but it is definitely an extension of the writing process.  I often find I get on really well with writers. The producer of my current project, Steve Kloves who wrote most of the Harry Potter screenplays and wrote and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys has become a very good friend.  We share the same passions but we’re included at opposite ends of the process.

The essential skills
If you can tell a good story then you have a head start. Beyond that I think the greatest asset any crew member can have is to respect the roles of all those around you. There are many directors who believe they are auteurs but the truth is filmmaking is a collaboration. Part of being a good editor is understanding what all the other departments do and plugging Editorial into that machine.

There are no rules to a good edit. For me it is simply the moment when the transition between one cut and the next takes life within the scene. The excitement of the work comes from stringing these individual moments of life together into something cohesive.

Each story requires a set of different stylistic choices. Some of the greatest single edits of all time are the most obvious ones. But just because they are obvious doesn’t mean they are any less powerful.

I never follow the same method for some reason. It always depends completely on the material. I try to submerge myself in the story and make every edit for that. Sometimes I’ll start with the moment I think is the heart of the scene and then build the rest from there. Sometimes I’ll just start at the first shot and keep cutting till I reach the end of the sequence. It kind of depends completely on what’s happening in the scene.

I organise the rushes as simply as possible. Like a kind of ‘Fisher Price’ approach, with visual key frames for each setup. Then I separate each take with a little red dot so I can see where each one begins! After that I make select rolls for key moments. I want them to be immediately findable because wasting time looking for anything is taking away time and energy from the film.

Come on board
It’s always different but usually it’s best to be involved at script stage. Producers want suggestions about cutting scenes before the shoot begins because they’re desperate to save money. It’s amazing how editors can help with that! I’ve worked with very ‘hands on’ directors as well as ones who have no patience for the cutting room and have given me total control. I think the best directors are ones who give the editor space to experiment while paying attention to the big picture. The director is most effective when he/she can judge things from a bit of a distance. Sometimes it’s hard to see the grand scheme when you’re chipping away at the details. The last thing you need is a director who is obsessed with a two frame edit.

When it works
The edit is the final stage of the writing process. The main reason I’ve had the confidence to move into directing myself is that I’ve learned so much in the cutting room. Ideally the editor and director are very tuned into each other. Some directors don’t have the patience for detail in the cutting room so it’s the editors job to make thousands of decisions on their behalf. Sometimes it’s easier for the editor to make these decisions because they weren’t on the set and have an essential and unbiased clarity on what is good and what isn’t.

You need patience, compassion, empathy, a love of music, an obsession with stories and storytelling, determination, good taste, a thick skin as well as extreme sensitivity (which is very hard) and above all, a sense of humour.
Most of the time editing is best when it’s invisible. However, there are times when a cut can be effective when it jumps out at you but only when it’s completely tuned into the story. For me there has to be a strong narrative reason for a noticeable cut.

The beautiful thing about an edit is you can’t irrevocably break something. The material and the performances are all in there somewhere, it’s just about interpreting it. Filming is expensive, editing can be done quite cheaply so you get a lot of freedom.

Get on board
If it’s been done well and the DoP’s fantastic, the script and the cast is good, what you’re presented with is already part way to being what it’s going to be anyway. The camera style will dictate the editing style to a degree and the rhythms in the script also. There’s such a creative momentum already when the editor steps in, if you’re perceptive you can dovetail into what’s trying to be achieved without going against the grain of that. It becomes a natural progression.

You never get the opportunity again to see the material for the first time. It’s vitally important you’re not distracted then. You’re trying to be with the actors as much as you possibly can when watching those rushes or you’ll miss that golden thing which is your first reaction. I’m very reactive to performance and levels of performance, anything that rings particularly true or is idiosyncratic and interesting in a human way, I’ll mark up and try to get into the scene at some point.

I feel myself to be a frustrated actor. If the actor is upset you need to feel as upset as they feel. If a joke is funny you need to be there with them to find it funny. Soul and perception of humanity is the greatest tool. To be able to pick out seemingly innocuous idiosyncratic behaviour is essential. Anyone with enough time can work out how to make edits on an Avid, but it really is about the communication of emotions.

Big screen, small screen
Whether it’s TV shows or features it’s essentially the same thing. Instinctively when you sit down in front of an Avid and you start pulling material together it just feels exactly the same. I’ve bounced between the two. I’ve just done a TV pilot and from shoot to lock it was four weeks and yet on Suffragette we were close to nine months editing. You look at these two scenarios and think how on Earth did we take that long on the movie and how on Earth did we lock that show in four weeks? But in terms of trying to figure out the differences I find it very hard. I approach every job with exactly the same determination, dedication and passion. When you hit the material it’s the same job.

  I’m often sent a late draft of the script to see if I have thoughts and notes but generally I tend to avoid that. It will have gone through so many clever people before me it’s better for me to come to it as fresh as possible. My job is to be the viewer at home, the guy who’s sat on the sofa watching it. The less I know about pre-production and production the better.

I’ve had scenes where the director says ‘I wouldn’t look at the stuff we shot past 6pm, it’s not so good.’ But when you look at that stuff it’s fantastic. When you chat to them you realise that day it was raining, the food was terrible, they’d gone into overtime the day before and everyone was tired. That might have influenced the way they feel about it.

Get it together
I tend to make my assemblies as tight as possible. If you have them loose you’ll end up having to take time out of them anyway. I tend to not worry too much about the visuals at that stage; I radio edit what the best takes are. If there’s some clunky visual editing then I can worry about that down the line. It’s whatever’s funniest, but I did the same thing on Doctor Who? – does it work? Are you getting the ups and downs and flows in conversation and the building towards suspense? If you close your eyes does it still make sense? That’s what I’m really worried about when I’m doing assemblies.

Once the director’s in there’s always something that doesn’t work – a joke that doesn’t land, a scene that feels superfluous, setting up exposition that’s unnecessary, so you start taking things out. You’re then on a mission to make it as much like a finished TV programme as possible. You’ll watch an assembly but you see 100 things that need fixing, you become obsessed with getting these things fixed. It becomes like a DIY project.

Room to breathe
Knowing what’s funny is really good, but if it makes you laugh it’s funny and if it doesn’t, it isn’t. It doesn’t really get more complicated than that. What does help is an understanding of how much clarity you need when it comes to story. Every good sitcom has a good story underneath the jokes but if that story gets so complicated you have to take jokes out to make time for it then there’s something wrong. It’s about how few words you can use to tell the story to leave room for as many jokes as possible.


You meet the director to see if you’re going to be able to work together. Then you talk to them and they start telling you their ideas about the story. But if you’re working with the right sort of director who trusts you he wants you to bring something of yourself to it. What’s the point of just being a pair of hands and doing just what someone tells you to do, you’d just be a robot. You need to give him what he wants but give him something of yourself. You may find something in the material he never thought of. That’s the way I worked.

I will talk to the director while they’re shooting and find out what they want on the scene and I will bear that in mind once I start working on it. With Joel Schumacher on The Phantom of the Opera he said to me ‘I want you to edit the film. I’m directing and you’re editing and when you’ve finished it, show it to me and if there are things we don’t like we’ll work on them together but if it works okay we’ll leave it alone.’ That gives you confidence. Some wanted to put their fingers in the pie all the time but I never had that very much. I find directors are easy to work with if they trust you, that’s half the battle, that they know you’re working to make their film the best you possibly can.

No rough stuff
The terminology I cannot stand is rough cut. There is no such thing as a rough cut. The thing you do first if the most thoughtful cut you make. It may not work completely because it may have come out too long or one of the characters didn’t work and you need to develop it a different way. All those things happen afterwards but it’s never a rough cut. You spend a great deal of time getting the best cut you possibly can to show to your director and the investors, that’s the one everybody sees first. Once you’ve done that you can see then where it doesn’t quite work and that’s where you work on it together. When you get down to it together you can say ‘this is far too long it doesn’t work’, or ‘we’re outstaying our welcome in this particular scene’ and he either agrees with you or doesn’t and when he doesn’t you get a film that doesn’t quite work.

The eyes have it
For a good cut you’ve got to get beneath the surface of the subject and understand the characters. I loved The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. It’s a story about these sad people and you feel for them and that’s how you get beneath the surface of the subject. It’s got to be instinctive, you cut where it feels right. That’s why I love dialogue scenes. All the time I’m looking at the character’s eyes. It’s like when you’re talking to people you look in their eyes and you know whether they’re getting pissed off with what you’re saying or you’ve got them on your wavelength. It’s the same when cutting a film, you’re looking at these people’s eyes and one movement of the eyes says a page of dialogue.

The editors featured in this article will be speaking at ACE’s EditFest London 
on June 20, sponsored by Televisual –

Posted 17 June 2015 by Jon Creamer

Clangers: behind the scenes

The team behind the new Clangers series had to bring the show up to date without losing its classic charm. Jon Creamer reports

For such tiny moon mice, the Clangers have had a very big impact on the nation’s consciousness.

The series, created by writer, animator and narrator Oliver Postgate and modelmaker and illustrator Peter Firmin, ran for just 26 episodes (and a special) on the BBC between 1969 and 1972, but it remains one of the best loved British children’s animations of all time.

Reviving it for the modern age then is a tough call. How do you update a classic without losing its original magic?

The team behind its reincarnation reckon they’ve cracked it although “we were nervous,” says Zoe Bamsey, Coolabi director of development and production. “You’d seen things like Bill and Ben and Andy Pandy come back and they hadn’t resonated.”

The key to making it work was involving, and getting the blessing of, the original creators. Postgate died in 2008, but Coolabi exec producer Dan Maddicott who had been a long time friend of Postgate and Firmin, began discussions with Firmin and Oliver’s son Dan about what the new incarnation should be. “Once the possibility of doing it came up, we got talking in detail to Dan Postgate who inherited the catalogue and Peter and after a very long time of chatting and discussing we agreed it could only be done if it was done absolutely ‘right.’”

Factory, the Altrincham based animators behind Fifi and the Flowertots, Strange Hill High and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion among others were then brought on board to help build the show and brought Firmin into that process.

And he brought some original source material. Firmin crucially still owned three of the original Clanger characters as well as the Soup Dragon, Iron Chicken and other props and crucially, one of Major Clanger’s armatures “At the time they produced that themselves in the workshop using bits of Meccano and filed wood,” says Factory’s md, Phil Chalk. ”It’s surprising the amount of dexterity you can get from that original armature. The range of movement was extraordinary given the low fi materials they had back in the day. We just brought that up to date with a modern armature from MacKinnon and Saunders, we’ve replicated those movements but made them more repeatable.”

But says Maddicott, “although the technology has moved on, we’re still using absolutely traditional stop frame characters.” After all, it’s pointless making it too slick. “With stop frame you don’t want to disguise the fact that it’s stop frame otherwise it begs the question, why do it?” says Chalk. “We want to maintain the integrity of the original.” So the characters and their costumes are all hand knitted. “We have a full time knitter in the studio to make sure the puppets are pristine in front of the HD cameras,” he says. The Clangers are all reskinned every two or three months to ensure matching colours and that “the integrity of the knit is maintained throughout.”

What has changed is the speed of the process though. Postgate and Firmin would produce much more animation in a day back in the DIY days of the 60s. “Back in the day Oliver, with Peter supporting him, would animate everything himself and would produce five minutes of animation a day in the shed. Now we’re producing just over a minute a day with six animators and full support crew in studio.”

The speed of production also comes from a desire to keep the feel and texture of the original. “We’re trying to be as faithful to the original as possible so we’re shooting as much as is humanly possible in camera,” says Chalk. The push is to eschew cg and use traditional animation rigging for movement, keeping backdrops in camera to a large extent too. “This is one of the most ambitious animations in terms of the scale of the backdrops and sets the company’s ever done,” says Chalk.

The ‘Living Cave’ measures 16 feet across, 12 feet deep and eight feet high “and that’s compared to traditional stop frame shows that take place on an 8 by 4ft tabletop set. In cg sometimes there’s a disconnect between the physical and the digital” aspects so “we’ve tried to ensure we’re capturing all the textures and strata of the various surfaces within the Clanger planet. You can only really do that by creating them physically.”

Clangers is a brand new version of the classic children’s stop frame series that first broadcast between 1969 and 1972. It was made by Smallfilms, the company created by Oliver Postgate (writer, animator and narrator) and Peter Firmin (modelmaker and illustrator). The new show is produced by rights holder Coolabi and animation house Factory

Narrator Michael Palin
Executive producer and design consultant Peter Firmin
Executive producers Zoe Bamsey, Daniel Postgate
CBeebies executive Jackie Edwards
Series producer Dan Maddicott
Directors Mole Hill, Chris Tichborne
Head writer Dave Ingham
Factory producer Phil Chalk
Head of production Laura Duncalf
Animators John Ashton, Jo Chalkley, Sue Guy, Will Hodge, Julia McLean, Kevin Walton, Fabrice Pieton
DoP Richard Dando
Production designer Andy Farago
Puppets Mackinnon and Saunders
Music John Du Prez

Posted 15 June 2015 by Jon Creamer
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