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Another Christmas cracker

This short from Picasso Pictures’ directing duo Jens & Anna shows Santa, and a host of other Christmas characters, getting on with their lives outside the festive season. In the live action/animation short Santa heads into therapy, Christmas trees get back to nature and presents work on 
their look.

Tis the Season... a Xmas short by Jens & Anna from Picasso Pictures on Vimeo.

Posted 18 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

Finding the tweet spot

Twitter’s head of UK broadcast partnerships, Dan Biddle on how TV makers are using twitter to greater effect

How has TV’s use of Twitter changed?
Over the last year it has evolved though the grammar is still being learned. Some shows tweet too much, other shows tweet up to the point of TX then don’t tweet during but that’s when everyone is tweeting. It’s missing an opportunity to join the conversation, gather more followers and add value to your show.

Why is Twitter important to TV?
95% of all online public conversations about telly happen on twitter, 40% of all tweets during primetime are about TV. There’s a symbiotic relationship. And the amount of tweets and conversation around shows is becoming part of the measurement of television. Nielsen runs the Nielsen television twitter rating in the States. It’s done causality studies and shown correlations between twitter activity and TV ratings – people tweeting, seeing tweets and being driven to that show.

Is there an obvious moment in a show for tweets?
There’s a ‘tweet spot’ moment that everybody will talk about. In the edit suite producers now increasingly look for the moment, grab that as a still, give it to the twitter guys and they will be able to tweet that at the moment of TX because we know that’s the moment that’s going to move people.

But if people will tweet it anyway…?
Producers should tweet what everyone wishes they tweeted so they will retweet you. It will be your best content rather than some shonky screen grab. The message should go out that if you’re not watching BBC or ITV you’re missing this. And it’s not just coming from the broadcaster it’s coming from your friends.

Is live TV the best match with Twitter?
One of the preconceptions a while ago was that with live shows you can bring the audience in and read out tweets but you can’t do that in a pre recorded show. But we’ve even seen movies do well on twitter. The Krays was on ITV4 and they promoted that the Kemp brothers were going to live tweet the movie. Duncan Jones the director of Moon and Source Code will live tweet whenever his films are on in the UK.

Is it just a push to the live TX?
Twitter is a live friends recommendation engine. But anything that happens during or after the show is also a drive to VOD. The Voice in the US has taken a leap forward with twitter voting. Tweets don’t disappear down a well. In any other interaction unless you’re read out on the show or put in a lower third Aston it might as well not have happened. With twitter, because it’s public, you’re more likely to get responded to – not necessarily by the show but someone may reply to you or favourite you or retweet you.

What’s the best kind of hashtag?
A hashtag can either just be your brand that says here is the campfire that we’ll sit round or it can inspire people to be creative and pull them in to a show. Ideally you want to give people that opportunity to be creative and witty or share a story.

Posted 18 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

TV drama: a tale of ups and ups

Television drama is currently experiencing a purple patch with a tax credit boost, a truly international market and big name talent flocking in. Jon Creamer reports

The following is based on a true story: the UK drama industry is currently experiencing a genuine, 100%, honest to goodness boom.

An unprecedented planetary alignment of factors including the rise of the box set, the fall of the mid budget movie and the healthy injection of tax incentives has led to a new golden era for TV drama. 

Continental shift
Chris Chibnall, the writer of Broadchurch, one of the biggest UK drama hits of the past year, is in no doubt that this is a remarkable time for the genre. “I feel we are absolutely at the most exciting time for television drama ever, full stop,” he says unequivocally. “There are more markets than ever before. Drama is defining channels more so than ever. The world has become much smaller thanks to things like Netflix, I’ve got writer colleagues who will go and pitch in America if they can’t get it away here. The market place is truly, properly global now. If you’ve got a great script, you can get it made.”

The market for drama is anything but parochial now, agrees Channel 4’s head of drama, Piers Wenger. “Across the board there’s a home for UK drama throughout the world now. We’re in a much more connected global marketplace. Drama travels much better than it used to.” And that’s led to greater opportunities to co-produce and get bigger shows on screen at the same time as audiences gain greater access to a wider range of drama through more channels and VOD services. “It’s fed their imagination and allowed them to be much more adventurous and broader in their taste. Now the Channel 4 audience look at a show like Homeland and feel as much ownership of that as many of our domestic dramas. It helps there’s a European sensibility to the filmmaking, it also helps there’s a brilliant British actor in the lead role but the landscape has grown in terms of the sorts of dramas that UK audiences can get behind.”

The BBC’s head of drama, Ben Stephenson describes the British drama audience as “the most sophisticated mainstream audience in the world” that expects a wide range of content, but not just in the arena of the big international co pro. “You can be Jane Campion and tell a story like Top of the Lake or you can be Kay Mellor and tell your stories. Top of the Lake is about as out there as you get on British television but that got an audience of two million. That’s bigger than most shows on cable television in America, which says something about our audiences.”

The international nature of the marketplace, and the demand for television drama in general, has meant UK producers have been pushed into getting ever better in order to succeed. “There’s a lot more opportunity but there’s a lot more competition,” says Kudos’ chief operating officer, Dan Isaacs. “There are a lot of people setting up drama indies, people moving from factual into drama and moving from film into TV and the Americans are coming over here and being a bit more acquisitive.”

Ex Tiger Aspect head of drama and now md of new indie, Drama Republic, Greg Brenman, points to the various new buyers that are moving into drama. “There’s a lot of opportunity. Everyone’s into content whether it’s Sky over here or Netflix or Amazon or Microsoft. There are a lot of people exploring opportunities. It would be foolish to say people are throwing money but original content is potent.”

The vital ingredient
And drama is fast becoming the most potent content to hold. “The game has changed so much in the last few years,” says Red Planet’s head of drama, Belinda Campbell. “The industry is so much more confident. Drama has repositioned itself as the vital genre. When it works it brings in the audience and it’s hugely reputational.”

Just within the UK, the thirst for original drama has increased hugely in the past few years. Into the three horse race between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 came Sky, a broadcaster that massively increased its drama commissioning in a short period of time and now looks set to stay for the long term. Director of entertainment channels, Stuart Murphy says that 2014 “is the year of scripted,” for Sky. “We have got loads of other stuff as well but my main obsession is going to be scripted. Viewers feel that proper broadcasters do scripted.” And without it, it’s hard to define the channel in viewer’s minds. “There’s a recognition across the portfolio of channels that drama can really capture the hearts and minds of the viewers and build a loyalty,” says Sky’s head of drama, Cameron Roach who notes that big shows like Kudos’ Sky Atlantic co pro The Tunnel, which the broadcaster assumed would be viewed as red button content, has become an appointment to view “something traditionally associated with terrestrials which is exciting for us. For Stuart [Murphy] and Sophie [Turner Laing, md, Content] there’s a real recognition that Sky subscribers can really feel a value from scripted entertainment.”

And it’s not just Sky. Broadcasters that had well and truly exited from original drama content are now getting back into the game. UKTV has ordered Legion, a high concept 10-part drama from Red Planet Pictures and Channel 5, now under Ben Frow’s direction, is making Suspects through Newman Street, an improvised police procedural. Further afield, there are other surprising entrants. The US History Channel has one of its biggest hits of recent times in historical drama Hatfields and McCoys, a state of affairs of great interest to historical drama specialists like Hardy Pictures. “We definitely do feel that if we get the right idea the door’s ajar and a big range of American channels are looking to do that work,” says Hardy’s Lucy Bassnett-McGuire.

Credit where it’s due
Of course, back in the UK, a good part of the genre’s confidence stems from the new tax credits system that gives high-end drama made in the UK a welcome cash boost and allows more money to go on screen providing the gloss now expected by audiences. “It has empowered producers in a healthy way,” says Channel 4’s Wenger. “It means that 
series television is now properly resourced and able to compete with the production value that audiences are used to from elsewhere in the world. Domestic television sets have changed so much in the last five or 10 years and that means that audiences can have a very cinematic experience in the home. We have to be able to resource that.”

And apart from putting more money on screen, the tax credit is expected to bring other benefits too. The credit is designed to keep drama production in the UK rather than seeing projects head off abroad to access foreign tax breaks. And that could mean bigger name talent signing on to shows if they’re not going to have to spend weeks away from home. UK centred stories using actual UK locations rather than mocked up ‘Britains’ in Budapest should also have a greater authenticity.

Credit squeeze
But the tax breaks won’t all be positive for UK drama producers, says Kudos’ chief exec Jane Featherstone. Not least because prices will inevitably inflate. “There’s no question there will be an impact,” she says. Although “a lot of prices and rates have been held at a certain level for too long and needed adjusting.” There’s also the worry that as foreign productions locate to the UK to access tax breaks, there could be, at least in the short term, something of a talent and facilities drain. “It’s a problem we have to deal with but it’s a good problem to have,” says Kudos’ Isaacs. “It depends how many big shows come from outside. They use big crews, they have expensive budgets and they use a lot of people.” And before more production staff are trained up, there could be a problem. Facilities could be stretched too. The studios sector is racing to expand and is already faced with turning customers away. “Now we have the tax incentive in place we went from 0 top 60 very quickly indeed,” says Andy Weltman, executive vp, Pinewood USA. “The issue now is Pinewood and Shepperton are pretty full. We want to get productions in there but don’t currently have the capacity.”

Film flight
Tax credits aside, there’s also the sense right now that film’s loss is TV’s gain. Much has been said about the move of writing and acting talent from movies to television. As the mid budget dramatic movie has fallen by the wayside in a film business that increasingly only produces either low budget indie fare or tent pole superhero movies, a lot of writers and actors find that television is offering a creative lifeboat. And good writers mean good actors follow. “TV is a very exciting place for talent to be. There’s a lot of good work going on which lets us be quite adventurous,” says ITV’s head of drama, Steve November, picking out Paddy Considine’s turn in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. “He’s somebody you wouldn’t have thought a few years ago you’d see on ITV as a returning detective, but when the writing’s good, it attracts good talent.” Greg Brenman, who cast Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders and Maggie Gyllenhaal in his lastest production, Hugo Blick’s The Honourable Woman for BBC2 and Sundance, says that’s a direct result of actors of that calibre not being able to find good roles in film and finding the good writers turning to TV. And those writers are coming because of operators like Netflix encouraging “serial narrative. It’s a cultural shift, it’s the sort of narrative that people like watching. You can tell one story over many hours as opposed to just telling stories within a rigid format. That has encouraged significant writing talent into the TV world, which has encouraged significant acting talent into the TV world.”

And the writing talent also feels it has more control, and respect, in TV. “I love film but why would I go and involve myself in a process that’s going to make me miserable when television makes me really happy and I work with brilliant people,” says Broadchurch writer, Chibnall. “I’ve yet to be convinced that working in film will be a better experience. Process is important because process is your daily life. I don’t want to be in a meeting room where I have written a 120 page script and I’m considered dispensable.”

UK commissioners: what they want

Ben Stephenson, BBC drama controller
“The key refrain I always use about the BBC is it’s all about range. We’re not a niche broadcaster. That doesn’t mean we’re not challenging. We’ve got faith in the audience. On BBC 2 it’s a relatively small channel in terms of the drama we make but very potent and powerful. We want an alternative take on genre pieces. On BBC1 we want the most cutting edge, authored, risk taking, mainstream drama. That’s why we’ll keep working with writers like Pete Bowker or Jimmy McGovern to deliver that. We want to find the next generation of mainstream successes that do what Last Tango or Call the Midwife did. People didn’t think a show about nuns or old people in love would work.

Steve November, ITV director of drama
“Our main aim at the moment is contemporary non-crime. It’s hard to crack - something that has big universal appeal, big story and delivers big characters without the genre narrative driver. It’s what everyone’s looking for and the few writers with a proven track record in it are in extraordinary demand. The most important thing is returning potential. If we can bring people back week on week that’s great but if we can do it year on year that’s when we start to develop loyalty to the channel. We want returning potential but that comes in all sorts of ways. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is a returning brand even though they’re single films. There’s always space for single films. We want to give the viewers something unexpected and those shorter runs allow us to bring some talent to ITV who might not want to do six or eight hours.

Piers Wenger, Channel 4 head of drama
“Each of the authors of the shows we have next year have incredibly distinctive voices with a strong point of view. It’s that originality of thought and vision and voice that should define Channel 4 drama. We want something that the audience hasn’t seen before. That can be a new take on a familiar area or it can just be taking the audience into a completely new world. It’s all about an individual’s vision. In the case of [Paul Abbot’s upcoming cop show] No Offence, it’s a completely anarchic take on the cop show with very strong female leads but with a distinctly Paul Abbot twist on it. Each story has a strong emotional heart to it and a huge amount of humanity.

Cameron Roach, Acting head of drama, sky
“We feel we’re well covered for period drama in terms of what we’ve got in development. The BBC and ITV do it so brilliantly we have to make sure we do it differently. On Atlantic we’re looking for really big, ambitious, contemporary pieces like Fortitude that have a British perspective but are also global facing so we can attract international partnerships on them. With Sky One we’ve got The Smoke and Critical and Strike Back. It’s still thinking about adrenalin fuelled drama with emotion and humour but now we’ve got a fire show and a medical show it’s now about perhaps thinking about crime or sci fi. We’ve got projects in development for family drama. The success of Yonderland coming out of the comedy team means that’s definitely an area we would explore, certainly for Sky One.

Posted 13 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

Storyboard: best of the month in vfx, animation and motion graphics

In this month’s round up of the best in animation, motion graphics and vfx, Weave flies close to the sun for the BBC; RSA and MPC tear it up for Sony and Rogue and The Mill swarm to Lexus

Weave vfx
Comet of the Century
Weave VFX created the star of the show for BBC2 Horizon special Comet of the Century that explained what would happen when the five billion year old comet Ison passed by the Sun late last month. Weave used a combination of 3d and compositing to visualise the ball of rock and ice as it went perilously close to the sun. The vfx director was Jason White.

Rogue/The Mill
Rogue’s Sam Brown and The Mill made this spot, Lexus Swarm for CHI & Partners. It was shot in Vancouver at various city locations including the Museum of Anthropology. The bespoke quadrotors created for Swarm took their design cues from Lexus cars and were shot mostly in camera with The Mill adding animation to give the machines more personality.

Lexus - 'Swarm - Amazing in Motion' from Rogue Films on Vimeo.

Lexus 'Swarm' Behind The Scenes from The Mill on Vimeo.

RSA director Rob Blishen, MPC and 180 Amsterdam built this paper universe for Sony PlayStation’s new Vita game Tearaway. The game is set in a 3D world made of paper, so the team made a real-life paper world at 1:12 to scale. A live action hero was dropped into a stop motion animation created on the set along with discreet 3D and 2D work and set extensions.

Second Home
My Motorbike
This is Second Home Studios’ contribution to the CITV Share a Story project in which kids’ stories are animated for the channel. Stop frame short My Motorbike was written by eight year old Alex Holt, a simple tale of a boy who dreams of motorcycle adventures whilst playing on his scooter in his back yard. It was directed and produced by Chris Randall and Waldemar Werbel.

Table Manners
Rebecca Manley’s new short, Table Manners, is her first foray into live action puppets. It was created for C4’s Random Acts.

Table Manners from Rebecca Manley on Vimeo.

Passion Pictures
O2 Sim spot

Passion director  Lobo goes on a journey through India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for VCCP’s O2 international SIM ad.

O2 "Memories" from Lobo on Vimeo.

MTV rebrand

Brand agency DixonBaxi created a new look, positioning and strategy for the Finnish commercial broadcaster MTV.

MTV 3 | Roller Derby from DixonBaxi on Vimeo.

Jump Design
One Show Titles

Lee Jacobs of Jump directed the Christmas special of The One Show logo and titles – a preview of the newly refreshed graphics package. The 3D was built In C4D by Duncan Tune who also composited the titles in After Effects.

The One Show Titles - Christmas from Jump Design on Vimeo.

Posted 11 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

Chris Chibnall on The Great Train Robbery

Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall found that despite its iconic status, much of the drama of the Great Train Robbery was still there for the taking. He tells Jon Creamer how he pulled the job off

Chris Chibnall’s The Great Train Robbery (World Productions for BBC2) divides into two separate 90-minute films, A Robbers’ Tale that focuses on mastermind Bruce Reynolds and his team of criminals and A Coppers’ Tale that puts DCS Tommy Butler and The Flying Squad centre stage.

Why did you get interested in this story?
We’d just finished doing United, the film for BBC2 about the Busby Babes. It was the first time I’d done a story based on real events. I loved finding the narrative and finding the characters. Often we’re not very good at dramatising post-war British social history. We don’t mythologise our recent history and especially not stuff that’s maybe a bit working class.

Was the idea always to have two discrete films?
Always. My initial thought was it’s not a two-part drama, it’s two films that are connected. I didn’t want to be intercutting the police and the robbers. I wanted to follow the characters’ journeys in each film.

Were you worried it’s too well known a story already?
As soon as I started reading in detail, a lot of the things you think you know aren’t true and there’s a lot more detail that places it in context. It’s become myth. On the robbers’ side the post robbery narrative has taken over – the escape from prison, the journey to Rio, can the police get them back? But the event, the planning and the night itself are in the background a bit.

How did you research the films?
There’s a lot of information on the robbers’ side but there was next to nothing on the police side. On the robbers’ side there were dozens of books and accounts that would often contradict each other because you’re dealing with people who don’t want to tell the truth. When it came to the police, Tommy Butler never gave an interview. We found three minutes of him on a Scotland Yard archive film. We went to the national archives, we raided all the news archives for footage. A really great research historian called Andrew Cook had unlocked a lot of the case files from the robbery. A lot of new information in that second film is based on first hand memos from Tommy Butler to his superiors. We talked to the surviving members of the gang like Steve Moore. Peter Jones worked under Tommy Butler and Ted Bentley worked for the finger print department at Scotland Yard. They had a lot of great stories about Butler. What was really exciting for me was there was a character here who is pivotal in this major historical event and he’s never appeared in a drama before

What other references did you bring in?
In a facile way, at pitch level I’d always said if the first film is Ocean’s Eleven the second film is Zodiac. But actually we weren’t really talking about many filmic references because the stories were so clear and unique. What you’re trying to do is evoke the time rather than that theme park sensibility.

Was the period itself important to you?
Everything changes in 1963 as Larkin said. You’ve got Profumo, The Beatles, Wilson in the wings. It’s the point when modern Britain erupts out of post war austerity. The first film is the new generation coming to take society by storm, the second is about the old order trying to hold on.

Did you have to add much to aid the drama? 
Not much. One big thing I fictionalised is a scene in a cafe right at the end between Butler and Bruce, which owes a lot to Heat. But it’s not what you add but what you leave out that is the big decision. You can’t show the hunt for all the robbers as that would be 14 arrests. In the first film it’s the nine months before the robbery, the lead up to the robbery, the robbery itself and then two or three days after it. The big decision is what period of time you focus on and that helps define the story. There are a lot of very compelling characters who are left on the sidelines – Buster Edwards and Ronnie Biggs are in the background. You always know you’re on to a good thing having to leave stuff out that’s good.

You always exec produce as well as write, why?
I think I can help curate the script to the screen. It’s about being a filmmaker from start to finish so your voice is there throughout. You have to work with very secure producers. Insecure producers want to muscle the writer out but brilliant people are always happy to collaborate in my experience. Anybody who doesn’t do it like that is losing a resource. Why would you not try to include the person who had the idea in the first place. It’s one of the reasons I don’t work in film. I’m lucky that people like Paul Abbot and Russell T Davies kicked that door down for people like me to walk through. It’s my responsibility to make sure the door is still open for the next bunch of people coming through.                                       

Broadchurch writer and exec producer Chris Chibnall’s latest is two complementary films, “not a two parter” on the Great Train Robbery of 1963. The first film tells the story of the gang who planned and carried out the heist, the second tells the story of the police team assembled to catch them
Broadcaster BBC1
Production A World Production for the BBC in association with Screen Yorkshire, Lip Sync Productions and Content Media Corporation
Stars Luke Evans, Jim Broadbent
Writer Chris Chibnall
Exec producer (World) Roderick Seligman
Producer Julia Stannard

A Robber’s Tale

Julian Jarrold
DoP George Richmond
Editor Mark Eckersley

A Copper’s Tale

Director James Strong
DoP Gary Shaw
Editor Billy Sneddon

Posted 10 December 2013 by Jon Creamer
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