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Interview: Damon Beesley, Fudge Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Gold airs on BBC2 tonight

Posted 24 May 2017 by Tim Dams

Behind the scenes: The Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you prepare for the shoot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted 18 May 2017 by Tim Dams

Televisual Salary Survey 2017: the results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was first published in the March edition of Televisual. To subscribe, visit

Posted 10 May 2017 by Tim Dams

How to break into television

With diversity high on TV’s agenda, Televisual rounds up industry schemes and training opportunities for new and emerging talent

"We are holding our doors wide open to new voices, new experiences and new faces that reflect who we are and who we will be and the creativity of this amazing nation."

So said BBC director general Tony Hall last month, at a BBC event where he - and co-host Idris Elba - unveiled a hotlist of over 200 emerging and diverse new talents, and announced initiatives to attract new talent to the corporation.

Held at Phonica Records in Soho, the event was packed with many of the 200 new talents as well as senior BBC execs. Many of those there said it underlined that the senior echelons of the BBC are serious about engaging with new and diverse talent.

Making this happen in practice, though, can be trickier - particularly in TV where hiring decisions are often made on a who-you-know basis.

The TV industry, of course, has made some progress since Lenny Henry called for legislation in 2014 to boost the low numbers of BAME people on and off screen.

However, the BBC and other broadcasters have been criticised for slow progress. Last month, Ofcom boss Sharon White said there should be "tougher, stronger" regulation to ensure the BBC and other broadcasters reflect the diversity of the UK, and refused to rule out imposing quotas.

So how does the industry attract new and diverse talent into its ranks? The launch last August of the Creative Diversity Network's Project Diamond diversity monitoring initiative has helped to focus minds, even if it has run into difficulties amid a boycott from Bectu and The Writers' Guild.

There has also been a flurry of industry activity around diversity, with the launch of a variety of new talent and diversity schemes at indies big and small from All3Media and Argonon through to Idris Elba's Green Door Pictures and Warner Bros and Wingspan Productions.

Endemol Shine, for example, offers 16 paid placements through diversity training body Mama Youth. All3Media works with DiVA, its apprenticeship partner, in placing new entrants. It also backs C4's Production Scheme as well as Pact's lndie Diversity Training Scheme. All3Media COO Sara Geater says: "All3Media proactively engages in various industry initiatives to encourage upcoming talent."

The lndie Diversity Scheme in London, run by Pact, brings together some of the top indies to provide a mentoring, networking and training plan for around 12 new talented individuals to the industry every year (pictured above).

Bella Lambourne, HR and operations director at Endemol Shine UK, calls it "a magic combination of work opportunity, bespoke industry training, mentoring and collaboration between Indies."

Since launching in 2013, Pact says that out of the 44 diverse young people placed with indies, 38 are still working in the industry in roles such as junior producer, assistant producer and casting researcher.

Next month, Pact is to launch a similar training scheme in Scotland, funded by indies STV Productions, Tern TV, !WC, Lion, Raise The Roof and Mentorn Media. John McVay, CEO of Pact, says: "The lndie Diversity Scheme in Scotland highlights our commitment to supporting the creation of sustainable and diverse talent bases in the Nations and Regions."

However, one issue facing new and diverse talent is that there are lots schemes on offer to help them into the industry, but they are run by many different organisations. A good source that lists many of the schemes is Pact's Diversity microsite. Broadcasters also have their own dedicated talent pages.

Here's a selection of the key industry schemes, training opportunities and web sources for new and diverse talent:

4 Talent Channel 4's portal for new talent, listing initiatives including an Apprenticeship Programme through to the Production Training Scheme, a 12-month paid placement aimed at groups underrepresented in TV. C4 is also going on the road to look for new talent, with C4 Pop Up fairs in Birmingham, Bristol and Belfast in April.

Bafta Scholarships Recipients get course fees for postgrad study, funded by Warner Bros, and work placements within Warner Bros.

BBC Details of the BBC's Apprenticeship & Trainee Schemes can be found on the BBC Careers site. BBC initiatives include the Production Trainee Scheme, Production Apprentice Scheme, and Extend in Digital News, a BBC News development initiative for journalists with disabilities. The BBC has just announced a number of new diversity initiatives, including The Hub (based in Birmingham), the Disabled Presenter Development programme and Class Act, a training scheme for 30 disabled actors.

CTBF The Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund has three schemes to support new talent: the John Brabourne Awards, the Betty Box and Peter Rogers Comedy Writing Programme and the CTBF Richard Attenborough Scholarship for the NFTS.

Creative Access Creative Access provides opportunities for paid internships in the creative industries for talented young people from BAME backgrounds. Creative Diversity Networks Commissioner Development Programme Industry programme to widen the diversity of commissioning at broadcasters including C4, ITV, CS, Sky and BBC.

Creative Skillset The industry training body offers a number of schemes, including The Creative Skillset Production Coordinator Programme, aimed at those wanting to pursue careers in production  management, and Trainee Finder, which offers training placements in animation, film, games, TV and VFX.

Edinburgh TV Festival The industry conference and networking event offers two highly regarded schemes: The Network, with 60 places aimed at those looking to start in TV; and Ones to Watch, which has 30 places for rising stars of the TV industry. Both offer access to the festival, as well as mentoring. The schemes are open for entry this year until the 28th April.

lnterMedia UK An LGBT network group, with a mentoring scheme.

ITV The broadcaster offers a number  of programmes, including: a 12 month Apprenticeship Programme; Your Experience, work experience for 14-17 year olds; Breaking Into News, an initiative run by the Media Trust in partnership with ITV News and ITN to discover hidden media talent; and the ITV News Traineeships.

Leonard Cheshire Disability Runs a programme of summer internships called Change 100 once a year, aimed at students and graduates with disabilities.

Mama Youth Project Well-respected training organisation, with a particular focus on underrepresented groups, aimed at equipping young people with skills and experience to secure jobs in TV and media. Organisations like Sky, the BBC, Endemol Shine, Hat Trick, Fremantle and Procam TV have backed the charity, which is set to train 78 people this year.

Media Trust The communications charity also provides skills-based training opportunities for you people in addition to a six-week mentoring programme.

Pact lndie Diversity Training Scheme A sixmonth paid scheme, offering a first step into the TV industry for young people (see above).

RTS The Royal Television Society offers two bursary schemes each year to undergraduates from lower income backgrounds intending to pursue a career in television: Television Production and Broadcast Journalism Bursaries, and Technology Bursaries. It also runs RTS Futures, an annual entrylevel training fair.

Sky The broadcaster has a range of youth programmes. It supports Mama Youth (see above); Starting Out, a youth employment initiative that offers work experience, apprenticeships and graduate schemes; and Fast Forward, a programme for school leavers in Hounslow to spend 11 months in one of Sky's content areas.

Posted 13 April 2017 by Tim Dams

Interview: BBC Studios director Mark Linsey

The director of BBC Studios, Mark Linsey, sets out his stall as the corporation’s production arm prepares to launch into the market next month. Tim Dams listens to his pitch

It doesn’t take long in the company of Mark Linsey to work out how the boss of BBC Studios is positioning the corporation’s production arm when it launches into the market next month.

The word ‘creativity’ pops up in conversation dozens of times. The new structure of BBC Studios is ‘all about driving the creativity’ and ‘empowering creativity’ within the organisation. The inhouse production team is looking forward to ‘taking its creativity’ to other broadcasters. Rival indies, he says, will appreciate the BBC’s ‘commitment to creativity’. Just in case the focus is not clear, he adds that success will come if ‘our creativity is as high as it is now.’

The launch of BBC Studios as a fully commercial operation on April 1 looks set to be a pivotal moment in the short history of the UK production sector.

For the first time, the BBC’s inhouse production arm will be able to go out and pitch for business from rival broadcasters. At the same time, the corporation has scrapped the guarantee that 50% of all BBC programmes are made inhouse – meaning that nearly all BBC commissions will be up for competition.

Linsey, who began his career in the indie sector before rising to BBC controller of entertainment commissioning and then acting director of TV, took over the BBC Studios project in March 2016 in the wake of Peter Salmon’s abrupt departure for Endemol Shine.

Since then, Linsey has steered BBC Studios through a complex regulatory approval process, which culminated with BBC Trust approval in December. He has also restructured BBC Studios, creating three genre divisions – scripted, factual and entertainment run by three execs with business and commercial backgrounds: Nick Betts, Lisa Opie and Roger Leatham (see box on next page). Linsey has also cut some 300 jobs at BBC Studios. At launch, total staff numbers will be around 1600, a mixture of continuing and fixed term contracts.

Linsey says he sought to make the leadership of BBC Studios as flat as possible. “I wanted to get rid of as many editorial and management layers as I could, so I brought in three leaders who are known for their operational and business nous.” Their role, he explains, is to empower the creative heads underneath them to do their best work. The factual department, for example, has six individual units within it – from Science, headed by Andrew Cohen, to Unscripted Productions, the new home of popular factual shows such as Countryfile and Antiques Roadshow, run by Jon Swain.

Each unit will have their own development teams. “We want to invest in their creative ambitions,” says Linsey.

Citing BBC Studios’ shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, Planet Earth II to Mrs Brown’s Boys, Linsey stresses the range of its programming. “It all does point to us being the best programme makers in the world, quite simply. When you look at the range and creativity, it is quite unique.”

This breadth of BBC Studios programming is undisputed, as is its geographical spread with bases in cities such as Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Salford and Glasgow. Linsey says this “commitment to having meaningful production bases right across the UK” is another real strength of BBC Studios in its pitch to broadcasters, allowing it to “make programmes that reflect the UK.”

But its ability to win commissions in the face of indie competition is less sure. BBC Studios always came off worse when directly competing with indies under the Window of Creative Competition (WoCC) that set aside a 25% share of BBC commissions to be contested in the open market. 

“We have to be more competitive. We recognise that,” says Linsey. The way to do that, he says, is to be “as focussed as we can on our creativity.” Indeed, the restructure, he says, has been about making BBC Studios more competitive. “We need to have the flexibility in our operating model, and to employ people in the way our competitors do. We need to make sure we are being efficient so we can focus as much of our spend as possible on creativity and programmes.”

But will top creatives need better incentives to work at BBC Studios, when greater riches may be available in the indie sector? Linsey replies that part of the pitch to creatives to work for BBC Studios is the range of opportunities it offers to them. “If it is in drama, you can be writing a script that is Doctor Who-like and that has commercial and reputational ambition. Or it could be a two-parter which has reputational capabilities, such as To Walk Invisible.” BBC Studios, he adds, will continue to produce “reputational one-offs”, which are eschewed by some indies in favour of the commercial holy grail of a returning series.

Is this sustainable though? “Yes, I believe it is – if we can make ourselves as efficient as possible. We can use the more commercial aspects of our business to support the less commercial.”

He adds that BBC Studios will also look to the indie sector to mirror their reward structures. “Obviously if we are going to operate competitively in the marketplace, we need to be able to offer the sort of incentives that already exist in the market place. So we will be working really hard to make sure that we can reward people appropriately.”

Linsey says he has already begun having “high level conversations” with other broadcasters in the UK about the BBC Studios offer. (No detailed pitches are allowed until April).

The feedback he has had is encouraging. “What appeals to them, and why they are saying the door is open, is they look at the shows we produce…and they know we can deliver quality and know we can deliver value. Because that is something we are used to doing for licence fee payers.”

And he believes the opportunities for BBC Studios are significant. Domestically, he says the BBC is “without doubt our main customer, that is where our focus will be. But we will be – we are – talking to other domestic broadcasters.”

In the US market, he points out that the BBC has long made programmes with PBS and Discovery, so “we have good relationships globally already.” He also cites the opportunities from SVoD players, noting that that BBC Studios is working on the Amazon and BBC commissioned adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens.

Yet Linsey is also acutely conscious of the challenges that BBC Studios faces in its launch year. “While we are a well established producer…we are going into a different market that is highly competitive. And there will be adjustments for us to make sure we are at our competitive best. So we need time to develop and mature in the marketplace.”

The BBC Trust has already acknowledged the challenges facing BBC Studios. When it gave its approval to BBC Studios, the Trust pointed to research from consultants OC&C which concluded that BBC Studios would lose share of UK commissioning spend to 2020 – and that its total share of commissioning spend would not exceed 13% of the market. OC&C said it believed only a ‘conservative number of programmes’ would be produced for other broadcasters and that this, together with the move to contestable BBC commissioning, would initially result in a falling share for BBC Studios.

Even so, many in the indie production community have voiced concern that BBC commissioners will favour their BBC colleagues. BBC Studios, after all, won the first open tender for Question of Sport. It lost the second, Songs of Praise, but won the important tender for Holby City. Linsey plays down the fears: “We are not going to win all the tenders. The process sits with commissioning. It is very fair – it has to be in everyone’s interest that there is a level playing field for studios as much as indies for content.”

Indeed, Linsey is clearly aware that the launch period for BBC will come with myriad challenges as well as opportunity. Asked if BBC Studios’ reported £400m turnover will rise or fall as it moves to a commercial footing, he says: “My expectations are pretty realistic. I think it will be hard to…you haven’t got the 50% guarantee anymore, there is uncertainty of revenue around that, and you have the backdrop of tendering, that adds to the uncertainty. I think that £400m figure is based on the 50% guarantee. We have to manage expectations around that figure.”

Linsey concludes: “I think it is going to take us a while before we bed in as a business. We have to allow and expect that. For me the real success will be if our creativity is as high as it is now. I believe if your creativity is strong, then success will follow.”

Most indies believe the launch of BBC Studios should be positive for business because of the removal of the 50% inhouse guarantee that BBC Studios enjoyed. 

“I don’t think anyone sees this as a bad thing. It has opened up the BBC to independents,” says All3Media COO Sara Geater, who is also the chair of Pact.

She warns that the indie sector will have to keep an eye on the relationship between a commercial BBC Studios and its public service parent. Specifically, she flags up the need to be ‘careful’ about the BBC or BBC Worldwide cross subsidising the Studios arm. She also says the BBC has to ensure indies have a level playing field when competing for commissions, and that pricing is fair and transparent.

Most indies assume BBC Studios stands to lose more than it will gain from 1 April. “It’s a tough ask for the BBC,” says Mentorn and Pioneer chief executive Jonathan Hewes. “Refocusing from one broadcaster to producing for anyone who will give you money requires a very different skillset.”

There are three key production divisions in BBC Studios: Factual; Scripted; and Entertainment, Music and Events. Around 1600 staff work at BBC Studios, which has a turnover of £400m.

1. Scripted
Director Nick Betts
There are three units within Scripted, each with their own focus:

Doctor Who, Silent Witness, War & Peace, 
Rillington Place, Our Girl, Father Brown, Luther, Thirteen
Continuing Drama
EastEnders, Casualty, Holby City, Doctors,  River City and Pobol y Cwm
Mrs Brown’s Boys, Tracey Ullman’s Show, Jonathan Creek, Two Doors Down, Josh, Inside No.9, Citizen Khan, Only Fools and Horses, Miranda, The Office, The Thick Of It

2. Factual
Director Lisa Opie
There are six units within Factual, based around the UK:

Natural History Unit (Bristol)
Planet Earth II, Life in the Snow, Springwatch, Natural World, Big Blue Live, Elephant Family and Me
Science Unit (London/Glasgow)
Forces of Nature with Brian Cox, Horizon, Stargazing Live, Trust Me I’m A Doctor, 
What’s the Right Diet For You
Documentary Unit (London)
Murdered By My Father, The Met: Policing 
London, The Secret History of My Family, 
Our World War, Britain’s Forgotten Slave 
Owners, Louis Theroux: Savile and Life 
and Death Row
Unscripted Productions (Bristol/Cardiff/Belfast)
Countryfile, Antiques Roadshow, DIY SOS, Simply Nigella, Gardener’s World and Bargain Hunt
Topical and Live  (London/Salford)
The One Show, Watchdog, Rip Off Britain, Arctic Live, Building Cars Live, Volcano Live and The World’s Busiest Cities
Pacific Quay Productions (Glasgow)
Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets Of Orkney, Countryside 999, This Farming Life and Imagine

3. Entertainment, 
Music and Events
Director Roger Leatham
The exact stucture of this wide-ranging department is yet to be announced. Its shows span entertainment, factual entertainment formats, music programming and national events coverage.
Strictly Come Dancing, Let It Shine, Question of Sport, Dragon’s Den, Children in Need, Sport Relief, Later with Jools Holland, Glastonbury, 
The Proms, New Year Celebrations and Remembrance Weekend

Posted 23 March 2017 by Tim Dams

The fixed rig gets adventurous

Two new C4 shows - Mutiny and The Polygamists - reveal how the fixed rig is becoming ever more flexible. Their producers explain how the rig is now just one tool among many for telling a good story.

Big Brother famously ushered in the era of fixed rig production. The technology employed on the reality format was used on the first fixed rig ob doc series The Family in 2008 and then on One Born Every Minute in 2009.

Since then, the rig has become a staple filming device in hospitals, police stations, schools and hotels, allowing programme makers to film people in an authentic way in spaces where they couldn’t easily put crews.

Recently, the rig has started to move out of these traditional TV precincts into smaller, more intimate spaces. In 2015, Channel 4 – acknowledged as the home of fixed rig docs – broadcast Renegade Productions’ The Tribe, which took the rig to a tribal village in southern Ethiopia. More recently, Rogan Productions placed a fixed-rig of cameras inside a small, family-run gun shop in Michigan for Channel 4’s Gun Shop.

The rigs themselves have changed too. Often the rigs are smaller and more flexible, and are used in combination with observational handheld cameras.

The BBC, which for many years eschewed the fixed rig, has started using mini-rigs in this way too – as just one tool amongst many to capture a story.

For example, Keo Films BBC1 cancer documentary, The Big C & Me, used a mini-rig to film in a room where people are given chemotherapy.  BBC1’s Ambulance also had a mini-rig in ambulances, but also made use of footage filmed by handheld cameras.

Two new Channel 4 shows – Mutiny and The Polygamists (w/t) – are good examples of how the rig is moving into newer, more adventurous spaces.

The Polygamists, from Keo Films, uses a rig as well as handheld cameras to film the complex dynamics of Fundamentalist Mormon family life.  

The 4x60-min series features a group of Fundamentalist Mormons living in the Utah desert, in a community where their homes have been carved into the face of a vast sandstone rock. The homes have all the mod-cons of most houses – it’s just the family set up is different. One family, for example, consists of one husband, three wives and 12 children.

Vicky Mitchell, series producer of The Polygamist, says the production team debated long and hard about whether the beautiful Utah environment was the right place for a rig, which might tie them to a domestic setting and feel too claustrophobic.

So they decided on a balance between a rig and handheld cameras. “We felt this at its heart this was a series about plural marriage and juggling multiple relationships. And what the rig is incredible at is giving you those unguarded moments of intimacy. We felt the rig would capture the more subtle dynamics of the relationship between the husband, wife and sister wives.”

The house of one Fundamentalist Mormon family house was rigged, with 14 cameras and 17 positions placed in the communal living spaces. Two traditional handheld crews also filmed. In the end, some 70% of the footage was captured by traditional filming, and about 30% from the rig, which was set up by Ben Hoffman at the Complete Camera Company.

“I think that is the way things are going these days. We’ll see more and more shows that have a rig element to them – the rig is becoming another tool in a filmmaker’s arsenal like a GoPro or an Interretron,” says Mitchell.

One of the big concerns for the production team was how to balance the rig and handheld footage. The latter was shot on an FS7 with prime lenses, giving it a filmic quality. Even though rig cameras have come on in leaps and bounds, they are no match for FS7 footage. However, Mitchell says this is not such an issue for audiences. “When rigs were starting out, people agonised about how to marry up the two styles. These days it is less of an issue. If the audience is engaged with your stories and your characters, then I don’t think they really care if one thing looks ever so slightly different than the other.”

Another good example of how rigs are adapting is Mutiny. Airing this month, the doc sees nine men replicate the long journey in a tiny open boat across the South Pacific made by Captain Bligh and a handful of loyal men after the Mutiny on the Bounty. 

Produced by Windfall Films, footage of the journey was captured by two embedded crew as well as a handful of fixed rig cameras attached to replica 23ft wooden boat. One, for example, was placed at the top of the mast, giving good coverage of the boat. Others, says Windfall chief executive David Dugan, were excellent at capturing footage when the embedded crew were too busy to film, or to pick up unexpected moments, like dolphins swimming past or quiet, unguarded moments of conversation on the boat.

The boat was rigged by Steve Selfe, the founder of on-board camera specialists Extreme Tec. He says: “The main challenge was to make a system that was easy to change over by very tired crew in all weather condition and carry on working for 60 days in extreme conditions.”

The system worked as follows: four broadcast quality, miniature HD waterproof cameras in fixed positions were connected to a hub that provided power and mic pre-amps. In turn, the four cameras and sound were connected to a master Odyssey recorder which could record for 12 hours if needed. 800 watts of lithium batteries powered the system and needed changing twice a day.

All video and audio was time code synchronised to a master clock on board a support ship, which followed about two miles behind. The live pictures were also transmitted back to the follow ship for the production team to log. The support boat was crucial, but tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible, says Dugan. “We were typically two miles behind. We obviously wanted them to have the experience of being adrift in the Pacific without us interfering too much. But it meant we could monitor what was happening, partly as a safety issue and also so our edit producer could just see what was happening. The stuff we picked up was not broadcast quality though, so we still needed to retrieve the hard disk and swap them over. “

In fact, the kit was changed over twice a day via a complex but rudimentary method which saw fresh recorder and cameras loaded into a waterproof barrel and thrown off the back of the support boat on a 200m line for the Bounty’s End to pick up and swap over.

Footage from the rig and embedded cameramen was also complimented by pictures filmed by DoP John Livesey, of Floating Focus Facilities, who captured the boat to boat sequences and operated a drone used on the shoot. Dugan says the kit held out well despite being given “the most horrendous punishment” in a unforgiving environment. “Sea water is just the worst thing for any kind of cameras system.”

Case study: Mutiny, C4

David Dugan,
executive producer

Windfall Film’s C4 series Mutiny recreates the 1789 Pacific journey of Captain Bligh after the Mutiny of the Bounty

Why did you use a rig on the boat? “We had two embedded cameramen who were getting quite a lot of material. But because they were also crew members, things sometimes got too busy. Also we wanted the opportunity to eavesdrop on conversations that might just occur when they were not filming.”

Tell us about the rig. “We had tiny little cameras, rigged at various places. One looked down from the top of the mast – it gave a lovely top shot of them all.”

How did you get it to work out in the Pacific?
“It involved quite a bit of engineering. We used an Odyssey system, which meant all the material recorded on to a hard disk which we then had to retrieve twice a day. We also had a wireless link to our support ship which followed a couple of miles behind and could pick up the signal.The stuff we picked up was not broadcast quality though, so we still needed to retrieve the hard disk and swap them over.”

How did you do that? “In a very complicated way. We had a complete change of kit,  so the cameras, the Odyssey etc, were loaded into in a waterproof barrel and thrown off the back of our support boat on a very long line. The Bounty boat would slow down and sail in, hook up the barrel, take out the fresh cameras and hard disk and put in the old ones.”

What kind of footage did the rig provide?
“It provided coverage. It was really good when you had rough weather or things happened like dolphins swimming past when we didn’t have the camera recording. It was different. It just gives sense of what it’s like, with wide angle shots, of being on this boat.”

How did the rig stand up to the sea? “It was given the most horrendous punishment and sea water is just worst thing for any kind of camera system. These cameras were pretty amazing. The thing we were most worried about was the connectors to the Odyssey hard drive, we didn’t want to get water into that. So we had a very well thought out, protected, bag with water proof seals on it. The boat could have turned over and righted itself and it would still have been fine.”

Case study: The Polygamists

Vicky Mitchell, 
Series producer

Keo Films’ The Polygamists is an upcoming 4x60-min series for Channel 4 about a group of Fundamentalist Mormons living in Utah

What did you rig?
“We rigged one of the houses used by a family with one husband, three wives and 12 children. The house is split into three apartments. Each wife has their own separate apartment – and all are interlinked – and the husband spends a night with each one on rotation.  The house is in an extraordinary place, blasted into an enormous sandstone rock in middle of Utah desert.  We had two exterior cameras, then cameras in each of the communal spaces in each wives’ apartment. We had 14 cameras and 17 positions.”

Where was the production team based? “This Fundamentalist Mormon community is entirely off grid. Each family has solar shed to power their houses, about 100m from their houses. Our team set up home in the  solar shed. It was in the middle of the baking desert heat – it was pretty unbearable. We set up our gallery in the solar shed, then had to dig trenches to run cable to the houses. The rig team was very small – there was four of us. We had two traditional handheld crews there as well.”

What were the challenges of filming in a domestic setting? “It is not action packed drama like you get in a hospital or school. You sit through a lot of people washing up or watching TV. You have to hold your nerve and trust that something will happen. The magic is in the detail. It is in the tiny interactions. Particularly with something like plural marriage, the rig allowed us to capture the fault-lines and foibles of the relationship in a way which traditional filming couldn’t do.”

This article is taken from the March issue of Televisual. To subscribe, click here

Posted 16 March 2017 by Tim Dams

The Televisual Book - out this week

The Televisual Book, a compilation of the best of Televisual magazine’s authoritative industry surveys, reports and features from the past 12 months, is published this week.

The 2017 edition of the Book is an indispensable, in-depth guide to the UK creative industries. It reveals the key talent, trends and kit in production as well as being a source of inspiration for programme makers.

The first section of The Televisual Book reveals the leading production companies in the UK, and is based on Televisual’s long-running Production 100, Film 40, Commercials 30 and Corporate 50 surveys.

Part two of The Televisual Book throws the spotlight on commissioning and funding. It opens with a look at commissioning trends in factual, drama and entertainment, and moves on to reveal top tips for budgeting productions, courtesy of The Production Guild. Part two also includes the highlights of Televisual’s annual Salary Survey.

Next, The Televisual Book focuses on the best kit in the production market today, showcasing the most popular, reliable and industry-rated technology.

We move on to the shoot in part four, which comprises a series of production masterclasses from top programme making talent; there’s input from DoPs, directors, aerial specialists and lighting experts. We also include highlights from Televisual’s annual Studios Report, which profiles the main studio spaces in the UK, as well as excerpts from the Outside Broadcast Survey.

Last but not least, the book moves on to post production. Televisual’s benchmark Facilities 50 survey rounds up the top post production companies as well as revealing the underlying trends in the sector.  We also hear invaluable craft advice from the world’s top editors and colourists. And we look at archive and music too.

The Televisual Book is free for subscribers to Televisual or costs £60 per copy. To subscribe to the magazine or to order a copy of The Book, click here

Posted 08 March 2017 by Tim Dams

The women taking centre stage

Three of television’s biggest entertainment shows – Strictly, The X Factor and The Voice – are directed by women. They tell Tim Dams about making it in a genre that’s traditionally been very male dominated

Back in 2014, Directors UK launched a hard-hitting report about the employment of female directors in TV. It revealed a worrying decrease in the employment of women directors.

The situation in multi-camera entertainment and comedy programmes was particularly shocking. The report found that only 5% of game and panel shows were directed by women, and just 19% of sitcoms.

There’s one area that is slightly better represented though: shiny floor entertainment. Three of the biggest shows on TV were directed by women in 2016: Strictly Come Dancing by Nikki Parsons, The Voice by Liz Clare and The X Factor by Julia Knowles.

“To see directors of such high calibre doing incredibly well in their craft – in a genre that has traditionally been very male dominated – and working across the main channels on big budget productions is inspiring,” says Beryl Richards, chair of Directors UK.

“This highlights that women are just as able to create great content, as their male counterparts. These directors, and many other women directors, show that there isn’t a lack of diverse talent out there, and the industry need to work closely together to help create more opportunities for women and other under-represented groups to work and to show their talent, to improve the current landscape and encourage new directors.”

The X Factor director Julia Knowles has been directing for over 20 years, with early credits including The Big Breakfast, The Word and Dance Energy. “At that point I was one of the few women directing in entertainment,” she recalls, adding that the ‘brilliant’ Janet Fraser-Crook (Later with Jules Holland) is another to have established herself as a director at that time.

Knowles thinks one of the reasons there are fewer female directors is that women are sometimes less likely to put themselves forward for jobs compared to men. Gender stereotyping is also an issue. Knowles recalls starting her career at BBC Scotland as researcher – all the while lobbying to be trained as a director.  She was led to believe that, in time, this would happen. A year later a man who she had been at university with arrived at the BBC and was instantly sent on the director’s course while she was expected to keep researching. She soon left to pursue her career elsewhere. And within three years of arriving in London was directing three hours of live TV every Saturday morning.

The Directors UK report gave a number of reasons to explain the challenges facing female directors. Among them, they found that decisions on hiring are influenced by the opinions of commissioners in a risk averse culture that keeps hiring the same directors. They also reported that production executives responsible for hiring are unaware of low figures for women directors, and that gender stereotyping is prevalent when hiring in specific genres.

Many say that getting that first break as studio director is key, but often very difficult. Parsons says: “There are not many HODs that are women – sound supervisors, lighting directors, production designers, camera supervisors etc. I think the studio has always been a male environment and hopefully as more women join the industry and work their way up through the ranks there will be more of us in key positions.”

Clare adds: “There has certainly been a great big push recently, to raise awareness of the work of female directors, in all genres.” She notes that Directors UK’s ambition is to see women working as directors on at least 30% of productions in 2017.

Talk to most studio directors and they will alight on a number of key attributes that makes for a successful director. The ability to communicate clearly and calmly under pressure is paramount.  “As a director you have to communicate your vision and listen,” says Julia Knowles. “If you can communicate and absorb the best of your team then everything falls into place.” And that doesn’t mean shouting and losing your temper. “Any director who starts the blame game has got it wrong,” says Knowles.

It also pays to be prepared, says Clare. “Whether that’s hours of meetings to discuss design aspects of the show or days in the office scripting music, the more across everything you are by the time you arrive in the gallery, the smoother the day will run.”

You’ve also got to be prepared, at times, to throw plans out of the window. Knowles recalls directing the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Norway in 2009, the year that President Obama won the award. Wclef Jean was performing and, on the spur of the moment, decided to walk off stage, through the huge crowd, and up to the royal box where the Norwegian royal family were watching. “At that point you have to forget your script,” she says. “It is about trusting the people you are working with, being able to communicate what you want, and having a calmness about you so that if a camera goes down or an artist goes walkabout you don’t panic about it.”

Indeed, most directors also say they like working with crews they know and trust and who are familiar with their way of working. Clare says: “I’ve gathered an army of hugely talented crew over the years; everyone from camera operators, vision mixers, script supervisors and floor managers, as well as having the privilege of working with some of the most creative lighting and set designers in the industry.  It’s definitely a team effort and so it’s hugely important to surround yourself with people you can trust and who understand the way you like to work.”

This also extends to facilities too. Clare has just shot the latest series of The Voice’s blind audition phase at Dock10 in Salford, the location of the previous two series. “Aside from it being a brilliant modern facility, with huge studio capacities and useful associated spaces, they also have years of experience technically delivering this show. This allows me to concentrate on the more creative aspects of the show.”

Many directors say they get involved in a project in the early planning stages, at a meeting with the executive and series producers. Sometimes, directors will come to a project before any design briefs have been sent out. But more frequently, the set and lighting designs may already be in place so it becomes more about working with key departments to bring the show to life.

Knowles says there is a growing tendency to leave directors out of early stage discussions about a show. “I have fought very hard over the last four years to be included in discussions about the set, lighting. and editorial aims.”
Once the shooting, starts most directors say the adrenalin and nerves kick in. “I always get nervous, it never gets easier,” says Parsons. “But if it did get easier, then you might get complacent.”

Julia Knowles
Director: The X Factor, The Royal Variety Performance, Nobel Peace Prize Concerts

What are the keys to a successful studio shoot?  The key skills are communication and being passionate about what you are doing. Obviously preparation and all the ABCs are in there, like thinking it through, understanding editorial aims, making your camera plan. But the bottom line is communicating. Any studio director who starts the blame game has got it wrong. As a director you have to communicate your vision and listen. If you can communicate and absorb the best of your team then everything falls into place.

Key tips for studio directors wanting to learn the trade?
Watching good directors and hearing them in the gallery is invaluable. I am of the firm belief that not everyone can be a good studio director. You have to have a certain brain that operates on different levels and the ability to hear different things at the same time.

Studio directing has a reputation as a male dominated profession. Why is this? The other thing you need to be a successful a studio directing is confidence. Possibly women are sometimes less likely to put themselves forward. And men often are. It is a big thing about confidence – trusting in yourself, trusting your team, being able to put yourself forward and not taking rejection as something that knocks you down.

Any new kit you’ve been impressed with recently? One of my favourite shots in TV is the close up. So I love it that we now have amazing lenses that can really work from a distance and give you incredible intimacy.  I like using the junior dolly to get beautiful tracking shots in tight spaces or crowded spaces. It means you don’t have to have a gigantic piece of kit and two burly operators, you can be more discrete. Then there is the incredible quality of lighting products.

Nikki Parsons
Director: Strictly Come Dancing, Robot Wars, So You Think You Can Dance

What are the keys to a successful studio shoot? To make a studio shoot run smoothly and on schedule is for me all about preparation. Going into a studio shoot with a very clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you are going to do it is key. To have the right team around you, who you have a shorthand with, makes a huge difference. The studio is a very expensive environment to waste time working out how the shoot is going to work. Obviously things change on the day and you have to adjust, but to go in with a strong game plan is key.

What kind of skills do you need to make it as a studio director? I would say a creative vision, the ability to communicate that vision, people skills, an understanding of all departments and a clear, calm head in a crisis.
Any new kit you’ve been impressed with recently? The use of augmented reality in a live studio environment. It can transform a studio into a totally different environment, and bring an added level of excitement and set design.

Studio directing has a reputation as a male dominated profession. Why is this - and are things changing? There are not many HODs that are women - sound supervisors, lighting directors, production designers, camera supervisors etc. I think the studio has always been a male environment and hopefully as more women join the industry and work their way up through the ranks there will be more of us in key positions. There haven’t been as many women to step up and and say, ‘I want to do that.’ It’s a very hard thing to break into, and to find someone to trust you to direct a live studio show.

Liz Clare
Director: The Voice UK, Alan Carr’s Happy Hour, Little Big Shots, The BRIT Awards

What are the keys to a successful studio shoot?  I’ve been very lucky to have worked in some of the UK’s top studio facilities this year (Elstree, Dock 10 and TLS), as well as with leading OB companies (CTV, Telegenic, Video Europe) in more challenging live environments.  I would say the key to the success of all multi-camera ‘shoots’, regardless of their location, is to make sure you have the right team of people around you, with the right experience and the right level of resources to deliver the show you’ve been asked to direct. It’s a team effort and so it’s hugely important to surround yourself with people you can trust.     
What kind of skills do you need to make it as a studio director? On a basic level, you need to be able to communicate well, be a team player, have a good technical understanding and be well organised. But there are more subtle ‘talents’ you acquire over time. On a practical level I need to be able to cope well in high pressured environments. But I also need a strong artistic sense of how to interpret the piece of music or dance in the most exciting way for the viewer. 

Studio directing has a bit of reputation as a male dominated profession. Why is this? There have always been brilliant women directing television. Julia Knowles has been blazing a trail for years, as has the inimitable Janet Fraser-Crook, both a huge inspiration to me when I was starting out; Nikki Parsons has won numerous Baftas for Strictly, Barbara Wiltshire directs the funniest show on telly, Would I Lie to You?; Jeanette Goulbourn is one of the best factual entertainment multi-camera directors there is, with credits like Dragons Den and The Apprentice. And I am very proud to say, that this year I became the first female director of The BRITs.  We’ve always been around, perhaps we’ve just become more ‘visible’ over the last few years? 

Any new kit/technology that you’ve been impressed with recently? The brilliant LD on The Voice UK, Dave Davey has introduced the new PRG ground control, remote follow spot system.  We are still at the pre-recorded stage of the filming and they seem to be working very  well.  It certainly seems like a safer and more user friendly system but I guess we’ve yet to test it in a live situation.

Posted 23 February 2017 by Tim Dams
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    Tim Dams is contributing editor of Televis...
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