Anne Mensah is Sky’s head of drama and commissions across Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts and Sky Movies. She explains what shows work well for her and what she’s looking for in the future
What’s worked well recently?
We are really excited about the shows we are launching this autumn. The amazing Strikeback and Mad Dogs will be back on Sky 1; for Mad Dogs it’s the last outing and so we are planning a huge finale. We will also have new shows such as The Tunnel on Sky Atlantic, Dracula and the Drama Matters pilots season on Sky Living and the fantastic adventure tale Moonfleet also for Sky 1. Playhouse Presents returned to Sky Arts earlier this year with a phenomenal line up both on and off screen – Kylie Minogue, Idris Elba, Matt Smith, Anna Friel, Marc Warren amongst many more…
What upcoming shows are you excited about?
I’m excited about all our new shows – we have a huge range of series coming up that hopefully will showcase the diversity of our channels and Sky Drama’s output. From Dominic Cooper in our biopic of Ian Fleming’s life to Jamie Bamber and Jodie Whittaker in The Smoke for Sky 1. I really think that there will be something for everyone in the mix.
What defines a Sky drama commission?
Scale, humour and emotion – and maybe a bit naughty or audacious. Sometimes they can be dark but certainly never miserable. With any commission, we’re always conscious to give customers a different offering to what can be found on terrestrial TV.
What are you looking for right now?
Big characters who can surprise us.
What genres work well for you?
We are lucky enough to commission for five seperate channels (Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts and Sky Movies) and that means we can carry pretty much any tone and any genre somewhere on our channels. I think it is one of the most liberating things about working with Sky – the depth and range of what we can do here.
Is there particular talent that works for you?
No – we love diversity on and off screen – with The Smoke, Lucy Kirkwood is writing her first series for Sky 1 whilst Carnivale creator, Dan Knauf is writing Dracula for Sky Living. We’ve had Vanessa Redgrave in a Sky Arts Playhouse, Ray Winstone is in Moonfleet whilst Gemma Fay, the lead actress in Annie Griffin’s pilot Reubenesque, is the goalkeeper and captain of the Scottish Ladies Football team.
What slots are now important?
We don’t tend to focus on slots.
Do you need of serials, one-offs or long series?
No, we will work with any project and hopefully find the slot that best fits the idea. Moonfleet is 2x60’ whilst Fortitude (which we are making for Sky Atlantic) is 13 x 60’.
Do you have a large development slate?
No, we tend to keep the slate small so the people we are working with know that they are not in competitive development nor in a beauty parade.
What kind of drama is not working so well for you?
Honestly, I can’t think of anything specific which wouldn’t necessarily work at Sky – it goes back to my earlier point, that the luxury of commissioning for a portfolio of channels is that we have a choice of homes for different dramas.
Which drama shows on rival channels have you admired recently?
I admire most things on the other channels as I know how hard it is to make good work. British drama is in such good health at the moment. It’s a really exciting time.
Tell us about what you’ve been watching, reading and listening to outside of work?
I’m a huge fan of musicals so I can’t recommend The Book of Mormon highly enough. Unless, of course, you are very sensitive. In which case try Matilda.
Sue Bourne’s documentary Fabulous Fashionistas tells the story of old women growing old with glamour, all shot on a then very untested camera set up. Jon Creamer reports
Back in 2011, documentary maker Sue Bourne had just released her first feature, Jig.
That film, about the Irish Dancing World Championships, had taken a relatively smooth route to funding with the bulk of the money supplied by BBC Scotland, another tranche from Creative Scotland and most of the rest from BBC network – all in all a pretty painless experience, “So I got all excited about doing another feature,” says Bourne.
By last year, Bourne was lined up to shoot her next feature doc, a film made with a New York street photographer “about the glamorous older women in New York.” But the film’s finances had a more dramatic narrative arc than Jig’s. With most of the money in place, she headed to New York for the shoot “and then the whole thing fell apart.” And Bourne headed back to the UK disappointed. “It’s getting harder and harder to get funding for features. It sucks the life out of you,” she says.
But the idea of making a film about fashion conscious older women didn’t disappear. “The older I get the more interested I am in finding out how you can make old age fun,” says Bourne. She’d already made Bus Pass Bandits back in 2001 about old age pensioners who took to crime in their sunset years and knew that “it’s hard getting people to commission a film about old people. You’ve got to think of a way of coming in” and the “the prism of fashion” was a way that would “at least be visual.” But “really it was a front, it was about spirit.”
Back to the small screen
Channel 4 Cutting Edge commissioner Emma Cooper then stepped in and ordered a British version of the idea for TV. “She said ‘why don’t you just do it in Britain?’” And although the Brits weren’t going to match up on the glamour front (“they don’t dress like the New Yorkers,”) they might offer more in spirit. “I’d met a lot of these women in New York and found them a bit superficial. There was brittleness to them.”
She then went about finding her fashionistas, which was “like finding a needle in a haystack,” as the subjects had to be at least 70, and preferably a lot older. “A couple of people didn’t want to be in the film as they didn’t want people to know how old they were. One fantastic entrepreneur didn’t want her bank manager to know because she’d just borrowed a lot of money.” And it couldn’t just be clothes horses. “They had to have a significant other story too.”
Get the look
As with all her films, Bourne took a long time getting to know her subjects before producing a camera. “I’m trying to boil down the essence of what I think their story is. I spend ages on that.” And when she does produce a camera, she’s never holding it. “I’m not good technically so I work with cameramen who are marvellous. I never work with shooting APs or any of that, only with proper cameramen.”
And the film, focussed as it is on colour and glamour, had to look good. But a verite doc needs a camera that can move a lot too.
Bourne and cameraman Tony Miller eventually decided on the Sony F55, despite the model being relatively untested in the field. “People said ‘you’re mad to be the first person to use it. You’ve got no back up or resources, you are the smallest production company in Britain.’ It’s just me and the dog.” And so after an initial panic about getting the workflow right, Bourne called in Envy who spent some time testing the camera, setting up the workflow and looking after the whole post production process.
A new camera is always a worry for a small producer but Miller was keen to use it, expecting it to combine the depth of field of the Canon C300 with the portability of a camera that could be taken on the run. “The last couple of years I’ve got back to doing some cinema docs again and really enjoyed shooting with the [Arri] Alexa because of the shallow depth of field,” says Miller. “But it’s just too heavy. Unless you have a big crew it’s hard to shoot documentary successfully with it.” And so the F55 “seemed like a really exciting choice. It’s much smaller and with the Fujinon 19-90 and 85-300 you’ve got two lenses and a set up that you can conceive of making work for a handheld verite documentary.” He says he was “impressed by it” despite “codec problems” and some “bad ergonomics” but “it works, it’s small and it’s very cheap. For the first time, you can shoot a doc Alexa style with a 35mm depth of field on two zooms and that’s great.”
Details Director Sue Bourne’s latest doc is an exploration of growing old with style. The film focuses on six women with an average age of 80 who have a youthful attitude and distinct personal style. Production
Wellpark Productions Broadcaster
Channel 4 Producer/director
Sue Bourne Commissioning editor
Emma Cooper Executive producer
Grant McKee Photography
Tony Miller Editor
Joby Gee Associate producer
George Hencken Stills photography
Christopher Kennedy Sound
Marc Hatch Composer
Jack Ketch Additional filming
Kuz Randhawa Dubbing mixer
Matt Skilton Colourist
Blair Online editor
Adam Grant Post
Envy Production team
In this month’s round up of the best in animation, motion graphics and vfx, Rogue gets pyrotechnic, Prime Focus pays homage to A-Ha and Trunk flies south for the winter
This is Rogue director Sam Brown’s first music video since his Grammy award winning Rolling in the Deep for Adele. Strong is the second single from London Grammar. The pyrotechnic promo was shot at the 6th St Viaduct in LA and shows a tender scene between father and daughter as the father gives the girl a fantastic fireworks show by covering himself in rockets and roman candles and letting her light them.The producers were Charlie Crompton (London) Dom Gomez (London) Sue Yeon Ahn (LA). The director of photography was Autumn Cheyenne Durald. The film was edited at Final Cut by Amanda James. Post was at The Mill and Mill colourist Seamus O’Kane graded the spot. Chris Batten was vfx producer and the 2D Artist was Chris Scott.
Gelato Go Home
Another short made for Channel 4’s Random Acts is this film, Gelato Go Home, made by Trunk directors Alasdair & Jock. The film seeks to answer the question “where do ice-cream vans go in the winter?” and was inspired by “nature documentaries, Japanese animation and with nods to classic shorts like The Snowman.”
Prime Focus Commercials VFX London delivered 60 seconds of hand-drawn animation in a three minute promo film for Red Bull F1/Infiniti car. The A-Ha-style spot involved over 2500 drawings made in the traditional style and then art worked, scanned, composited and graded. The animation director was Eoin Clarke, the exec producer was Jules Pye. ecoms.primefocusworld.com/Redbull/SOCHI_RED_BULL_Playable_New_Sound.mov
Salad and Synexus
Two from Th1ng this time. The first is Anthony Farquhar-Smith’s stop frame spot for Florette salad’s One Minute Wonders campaign, showing veggies dodging a spaghetti spoon shark. The second, again directed by Farquhar-Smith, for Synexus’ asthma Clinical Research Studies shows a little lost breath on a busy city street.
The Studio @ Smoke & Mirrors was hired directly by MBNA to create the new spot for its “affinity” credit cards. The spot shows the cards building a ‘little big world’ including hospitals, stadiums and entire cities. The Studio came up with the creative and directed all the animation in-house. The director/ compositor was Dan Andrew.