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Matt Rudge on All Creatures Great and Stuffed

A catcopter, a sharkjet, a radio controlled flying rat: Matt Rudge’s new doc on modern taxidermy, All Creatures Great and Stuffed, features some unusual hybrids.

But as both a Bafta-nominated doc maker with credits like The Autistic Me and House of Surrogates to his name and also a regular on the stand up circuit, he’s an unusual hybrid himself. It’s not a career mix that many combine. “Although someone told me Morgan Spurlock once tried stand up.” But, he says, the two jobs are “closer than you’d imagine. When you write a stand up show it’s an hour-long narrative weaving themes in and out. It’s not that dissimilar to a documentary.”

Except stand up places all the focus on the storyteller, whereas Rudge is rarely in the camera’s glare on his documentaries. “On the projects I’ve done so far, I would have got in the way. It would have to be required by the film instead of me being plonked in front of the screen to present.”

And there’s more than enough to focus on visually in Get Stuffed. The modern resurgence of taxidermy made it an obvious subject for documentary. “People don’t know how to react to it. Perhaps that speaks about our attitude to death. Also, I’m not going to lie, there were things like a radio controlled helicopter cat!” And there was bound to be a rich seam of characters, he says. “I don’t think the average person looks at a dead lamb and thinks, ‘I could do something with that.’”

And it’s those characters that are ultimately the focus. “When I was toying with the original concept I thought ‘could we invent the scalpel camera? or use a mini rig above where the taxidermists work like a camera in a mortuary?” But more kit and crew “would have reduced the time I could spend with each character.” And that’s key. “I self shoot as it’s all about the relationship with the contributor. When you get to know these people they open up. There’s a back-story that is quite sensitive. It’s difficult to get that relationship if you turn up and say the crew is just unloading.”

All Creatures Great and Stuffed, Mentorn for Channel 4: Wednesday 10th September

Posted 10 September 2014 by Jon Creamer

Writer Jack Thorne on Glue (E4)

Jack Thorne’s writing covers theatre, radio, film and TV. His latest project, Glue, is a rural murder mystery for E4. Jon Creamer reports

Jack Thorne’s writing career is nothing if not varied, taking in theatre (Bunny, Let the Right One In), radio (People Snogging in Public Places), film (The Scouting Book for Boys, War Book, an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down) and, of course, TV with Skins, Cast Offs, This is England and the decommissioned-before-its-time, The Fades.

“My big worry is I’ll end up telling the same story over and over again,” he says. And by working in different genres “you’re constantly exposing yourself” to new challenges. “I took two years away from theatre at one point. Then when I tried to come back and write something new I found it impossible. You have to keep in practice.”

Each genre also allows you to tackle vastly different subjects, he says. “I’m doing a play at the Royal Court in December and the plot is a local council working through a budget settlement. You couldn’t do that for E4. But then you couldn’t tell Glue on the Royal Court stage.”

The aforementioned Glue (pictured) is his latest series for E4. In essence, a rural crime drama based around the world of riding stables. The initial impetus for the series came from Thorne’s own rural upbringing in Newbury and a feeling there weren’t “quite enough stories being told about the countryside” and certainly not crime dramas. Although that’s not so much the case now. “Two years in to the development process we heard about this show called Broadchurch. Then about a year after that we hear about a show called Happy Valley...”

So, no pressure then. “You always worry about the shows you’re going to be compared to.” But, he says, Glue is based specifically around rural young people. “Young people in this country tend to be represented as urban young people.” And the crime element in Glue is not front and centre. “Genre allows you to tell stories and it allows you to put people in crisis and that is always a quite interesting way to discover the truth about them.” But the push was to “not worry too much about the police element of it. Hopefully we use genre rather than get controlled by it.”

Channel 4 will have high hopes that Glue, like Thorne’s previous E4 show Skins, can return for series after series. “Certainly now we’ve reached the end we don’t want to say goodbye to these characters,” he says. Although “you don’t want to be stuck in a situation where it’s Midsomer Murders” with a new killing every five minutes.

But bringing a series back needn’t mean it must stick rigidly to its previous incarnation. Drama formats are changing in an exciting way, he says. “True Detective is returning without any of the central characters, just with the promise that the world that was set up would be repeated in some way. If you get it right people will want more so you just try to get it right.”

And planning series two during series one is just not healthy. “We were concentrating on getting the first series right and not worrying too much about the future until the future comes along.” Because Thorne has bitter experience of making assumptions about recommissions. His originated BBC3 supernatural series, The Fades, found itself in the curious position of both winning a Bafta and getting cancelled after series one. “On The Fades, I knew from quite an early stage what I wanted to happen in series two and three, and then I had my heart broken. With this I didn’t want to think about the future, just how we nail this one.”

Like Skins, Glue is a collaborative writing affair with Thorne as the lead. And it’s the collaborative element that makes scriptwriting interesting, he says. “The great thing about having other writers involved is you’re in the middle of writing episode five and suddenly episode three turns up and takes a character in a totally different direction and you see things in a whole new way.” It’s also defined and “led by the actors and what the actors do” as well as other crew: “The location manager can be the best storyteller on the crew. On The Fades we rewrote the opening sequence on the basis of the location the location manager found.”

And whether it’s TV, film or theatre, the writing experience is largely defined by your collaborators, he says. “Working on This is England was very different from working on Glue. My job was to work on the story with Shane [Meadows] then when it’s right my job is done. That’s the way that works and that’s what makes him brilliant. Glue, by its nature, was a lot more constant which is great but has its difficulties. You can walk in from a day on set and you’ve got three hours of writing to do and four cuts to watch.”

As to the future, that is largely defined by collaborators too, he says. “You just hope that the people you want to work with still want to work with you.”

Theatre: When You Cure Me, Fanny and Faggot, Stacy, Burying Your Brother in the Pavement, Bunny, The Physicists, Let The Right One In.
Television: Skins, Shameless. Co-creator of Cast-offs, co writer of This Is England ‘86 and This Is England ‘88 with Shane Meadows.The Fades, Glue
Radio: When You Cure Me Left at the Angel, an adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, People Snogging in Public Places, A Summer Night
Film: The Scouting Book For Boys, A Long Way Down, War Book

Posted 03 September 2014 by Jon Creamer

Writer and producer Jeff Pope

Jeff Pope has carved a career from TV drama honed from real life, and now on the big screen too. Jon Creamer reports

He’s built a career on writing and producing TV dramas based on real life stories with surprising twists.

But Jeff Pope is unsure right now which way his own story will lead.

After 18 years running ITV’s ‘factual drama’ department in which he’s produced and written a long line of successful TV dramas based on famous figures or infamous crimes, he co wrote Philomena with Steve Coogan, picking up Oscar nominations and international acclaim in the process.

Philomena’s profile has inevitably produced a fair few movie based offers, but he’s content to play things by ear for now: “I’m not looking too far forward, you can trip yourself up,” he says.

What he’s sure of is he’d like to “keep going on both fronts” of TV and film and to stick to what he can do and not drift into what he can’t. “I’m 52 so this level of success has come to me later in life. So I know what I’m good at. I think if I’d had that success at 32 I would have jumped on the first big thing that came my way. There are people who can do a new Batman movie better than me.”

On Philomena Pope simply took a writing role. His modus operandi until now has always been to act more as ‘showrunner’, producing and writing or often just producing. And he’s been doing that long before the phrase was coined.

But Pope’s showrunning role was originally borne of necessity, he says. “As a young producer one of the biggest problems you face is getting a writer. I was ambitious. I wanted to go for good writers but at any given time they’re six months to a year away from being free to write anything for you. So I was impatient and I thought I know a writer available, which was me.”

He found he had an “aptitude.”  “It was just something I found I was able to do.” But writing and producing is where the showrunning ends, he says. “I’ve never been a frustrated director or actor. I’ve always enjoyed working with brilliant directors and them bringing another level to my work. The most exciting thing for me is to watch something back and not even remember the lines. There are very few brilliant writer/directors. Sometimes it can be a curse. You’re not going to ask questions of it because you’ve written it. Someone else needs to be in that process.”

But despite being a producer/writer ahead of his time, his work has been focused heavily on single films and short serials, very different from the current vogue for long running returning series.

That’s not been a conscious choice though. “I would dearly love to do series,” he says. “The nearest I came to it was City Lights and Northern Lights and Bob Martin. I would happily still be writing those now.” And he’s currently writing a comedy series with Danny Baker for BBC2 based on the broadcaster’s memoirs but, he admits, “my mind probably works in a slightly different way. I love the turnover of a different situation and story and people.”

And ITV and its viewers seem to as well. “I’ve been very lucky. ITV has supported the films that I make ever since I started doing them. And that kind of piece has never really gone out of fashion.” The recent The Widower, Appropriate Adult (written by Neil McKay), Lucan, Mrs Biggs and plenty more generate both audience numbers and column inches. “The public appetite has never dimmed. Though it takes some courage. Appropriate Adult was expensive to make and there was no guarantee that you were going to get a big audience. It’s a safer bet with Doc Martin. But if you get it right, it’s something talked about and the perception of the channel is raised.”

What’s crucial, says Pope is he always makes drama that is “accessible to a mass audience. I’ve never really been interested in narrow gauge pieces.” And that means telling a story and not hiding “behind the factual element of a factual drama. It has to work as a drama with a beginning, a middle and an end. It has to have plot and a narrative.”

But that doesn’t mean skipping around the facts. Pope began his career as a journalist  “and those disciplines never leave you.” All his films begin with a long period of research and interviews. “The skill is finding the line through it.” And the detail is crucial “In a true story the deeper you go into the minutiae of that story the more fascinating it is. The more material you uncover the more unique the story becomes. That is my impulse.”

Although absolute accuracy is impractical. “You have to be true to the essence of what happened rather than the undiscoverable literal detail.” And factual dramas, particularly those based on a crime, are kept honest by one detail. “I always have in the back of my mind that I’m going to be showing this to perhaps the relatives of a murder victim or the actual police officer in the case. That’s a great discipline.”

Jeff Pope will be speaking at the Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival in August

Jeff Pope has been head of ITV’s factual drama department since 1996.
He began his career as a journalist, first for the Ealing Gazette then for LWT’s Six O’clock Show before moving into factual drama by producing Fool’s Gold: The Story of the Brinks Mat Robbery.
Since then he has been producer, writer or writer/producer on TV dramas including the upcoming Cilla, The Widower, Lucan, Mrs Biggs, City Lights, Pierrepoint, Dirty Filthy Love, Bob Martin and the Oscar nominated movie  Philomena that he wrote with Steve Coogan.

Posted 12 August 2014 by Jon Creamer

Kids TV genre report

It’s a year on since the UK animation tax break came into force, but the fight is now on to give live action children’s television the same lifeline. Jon Creamer reports

Children’s TV has always been the poor relation when it comes to dishing out commissioning cash.

But over the last eight years or so, while other genres were being squeezed, children’s TV budgets were being violently throttled.

Many broadcasters pulled back from commissioning local original content and the broadcasters that stayed in the game started paying a smaller and smaller percentage of the show’s production costs, leaving producers to scour the world for the shortfall.

That isn’t going to change any time soon. Even at the BBC, the mainstay of original kids TV commissioning in the UK, times are tight. Children’s TV was not ring-fenced after recent BBC cutbacks and CBBC and CBeebies have cut back accordingly.

Break time
But there has been a little sunshine peaking over the horizon of late. A year ago tax breaks were brought in for high-end drama and, crucially for the kids TV industry, animation.

After just a year with animation tax breaks in force, the advantages are now clear. “There is a real feeling of renewed optimism,” says Phil Chalk, whose indie Factory TM makes CBBC’s Strange Hill High and is in production on the updated Clangers series. “We’re looking now to the end of 2016 and beyond in terms of our production slate. It feels like we’re able to build a business now rather than lurch from the end of one production to the start of another. There’s some longevity now so we can invest in our people.”

The birth of the animation tax credit has already seen a whole host of shows finally get into production after being in stall mode for a long time. “It’s a game changer for the industry,” says Colin Williams, creative director of Northern Ireland based kids indie Sixteen South, whose animated pre school show, Lily’s Driftwood Bay has just been greenlit for season two on Nick Jr. “It made a second series possible. Without it, we couldn’t make the show here.”

With the UK now on a more level playing field with other countries, producers are getting to produce their shows in the UK rather than send production abroad, good for UK animators but also good for the finished product. “You almost can’t put a price on that it’s so important,” says Ben Butterworth of Q Pootle 5 producer, Snapper Productions. “It doesn’t make sense to me the idea that you can be the other side of the world working in different time zones, sometimes in different languages.”

Production houses are also attracting foreign IP owners to make their shows here too. “We’re looked on more favourably now,” says Factory TM’s Phil Chalk. “In the past people have bypassed us and gone straight to Ireland or France. But if we buddy with an Irish or French studio we can often times have 50% of the funding in place. We’re part of that equation now.”

Live TV
But while animation is a mainstay of kids TV, live action shows haven’t been given the same opportunity yet. A campaign, led by Pact, is now on to change that. The success that not just animation, but high-end drama, movies and games have garnered from tax credits means that hopefully, the campaign will be pushing at an open door.

“There is a lot of traction” behind the campaign, says Kindle’s Anne Brogan. “For the first time a lot of people from a lot of different areas are really focussed on it – from production and Pact to the government. I hope it will get somewhere. It would have a huge impact, providing licence fees don’t go down or even stay the same as a result.”

For Billy Macqueen, co founder of Darrall Macqueen, “It’s a no brainer to do it. You’re keeping production in the UK, keeping IP.” Darrall Macqueen’s Topsy and Tim, a live action drama for CBeebies has proved a big hit, but a second series still has a 20% gap to fill before it can go into production. If a live action tax break were in existence “it would be a goer. We have brilliant technicians and great IP creators in this country but frankly, when you’re up against Australia, Canada, France who are offering almost 80% grants to their productions, you tend to get separated from the IP.”

Under pressure
And, for children’s drama, there’s an increased pressure now as an unintended consequence of the high-end drama tax breaks brought in last year. “Costs have gone up really significantly” in drama, says Brogan. “Ironically one of the drivers for cost is the fact there is a high-end drama tax break, which is terrific, but in certain crew areas it means those people who have got that expertise can command their price. In the past people were almost always prepared to take a lower fee for kids shows because they understood that the licence fee was that much lower. That’s no longer the case. We’re really in a complete crunch.”

For many producers of live action kids TV, it almost feels as though within the next few years, without a tax credit, the funding jigsaw will go from being very difficult to impossible. “There’s a lot more pressure now. You can’t just put your production fee in. If you’ve done that once or twice you’ve got nowhere else to go,” says Billy Macqueen. “The banks aren’t lending like they used to. In the old days you used to have a Programme Production Agreement from the BBC and a distributor’s contract and that was enough. Now it’s not. You’ve got to prove projections of how the series is going to sell and how the 50 or so funding elements are going to contribute. You’ve really got to give a guarantee.”

Puzzle pieces
To add to that, other traditional sources of revenue have almost died away. “The animation tax credits are a huge advantage,” says Michael Rose of Gruffalo producer Magic Light Pictures. “But on the other side of the equation, we’re seeing continually declining DVD revenues and no real substitute income for them. Digital downloads are helping a bit but that’s a big issue for the industry. In the half hour specials we do we still have the advantage of a gifting market, but there’s still quite a heavy year on year decline.” And although “it’s a relief that suddenly you’re getting new players like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu in to the market,” says Billy Macqueen, it’s far from being a replacement yet.

Kids producers are increasingly scrabbling around for smaller pots of money. “You have to look for every little piece of financing that is possible,” says Kindle’s Anne Brogan. “If you’re shooting in the UK there are regional incentives or you look to shoot elsewhere where there is a tax or cash incentive. We’ve shot in South Africa and we’re currently looking at shooting in Malaysia, India, South Africa again – partly for the sunshine but mainly for the money.”

More and more time and money is spent finding financing rather than dreaming up new IP. And while you’re finding financing, time is ticking away. Pre animation tax break, Sixteen South’s Driftwood Bay had orders from broadcasters, but had yet to plug the finance gap. The date those broadcasters wanted the show was fixed and “the longer it took us to finance it, the less time we had to make it,” says Sixteen South’s Williams. “The sooner you can get into production the more effective you can be with your budget.”

But the main argument for the live action kids TV tax break is one of competition. With other countries offering so many benefits, the UK production market will only last so long if it can’t match them. “Everybody else is bringing 20, 30, 40, 50, 80 per cent of the budget,” says Macqueen. “We’ve got away with it for a few years with our outstanding creative, but we’ve spent a decade saying ‘our creative is so amazing you can’t do without it’” but if it continues, they undoubtedly will find a way.

Posted 30 July 2014 by Jon Creamer

Steve Reeves Keeping Rosy

Another Film Co commercials director Steve Reeves tells Jon Creamer about the experience of shooting his first feature

Steve Reeves has directed over 400 commercials including the Agent Provocateur viral starring Kylie Minogue. Keeping Rosy, a low budget thriller that he co wrote with agency copywriter Mike Oughton proved a baptism of fire.

Was securing funding for the film a difficult process?
Getting the film made has been really tough. Not the shooting process itself, that was a very enjoyable experience. But getting people to invest in the script was difficult. There have been so many meetings with potential backers all giving contradictory opinions about how our script could be made good enough to be funded. They were all complimentary about the script but nobody would actually commit financially.

Did your background as a commercials director help with securing backers for the feature?
That counts for very little in feature films. There is a big difference between directing a commercial and directing a narrative over an hour and a half.
In the end myself and Mike (Oughton, Reeves’ co writer) made a short film, Taking Life, which is a version of a scene from the Keeping Rosy script. The short ended up being chosen for various festivals but we really made that to help sell the feature idea. It gave potential backers a better feel of what the feature could be and also proved that I was able to direct a narrative that was longer than a commercial.

Did you get longer with your actors than you would on a commercial?
The budget of the film was very low so I didn’t really get that long with the actors on set.  We had to do so many set-ups every day that we were constantly moving on. Because of Maxine’s schedule, we had no time for rehearsals. We just had an afternoon read through before the shoot. There were many stressful times during the shoot so I was thankful that I hadn’t compromised at all during the casting stage because when you have great actors, you can work very quickly.

Did your commercials work allow you to call in favours (or beg for help) from crew and suppliers?
I’ve always believed that having a relaxed atmosphere on set is the best way to get great results. Because of this, I tend to get on pretty well with the crew that I work with and many of them offered to work on the film even though the rates are reduced. For example, the film was edited through The Quarry and Scot Crane and Paul Watts did an extraordinary amount of work on the film for very little financial reward.

What problems, hitches and glitches did you run into on the shoot and how did you overcome them?
The main problem was the lack of money. 
Because the whole crew and the actors were on a deal, the days were fixed with no overtime whatsoever – the schedule was gruelling to say the least. This meant that sometimes we just didn’t get time to shoot everything we wanted. We had to cut some scenes and rewrite others. Luckily Mike and I have a very good working relationship, and like me Mike is pretty good at thinking on his feet so we were able to adapt when necessary. It was heartbreaking to lose some of the more subtle little nuances within the script, but at the end of the day, telling the story is the most important thing so these compromises had to be made.

Is it your ambition to make both commercials and movies in the future?
One day I may make another film but making a movie is such a slow process. You spend so much time just waiting. Waiting for money to come through, waiting for an agent to give a script to an actor, waiting for the actor to decide whether or not to take the script on etc. This can take months and sometimes years. Advertising isn’t like that. It’s so immediate and that’s what makes it so brilliant. Once a job goes into production, it’s usually cast, shot, edited and finished within four weeks. Compared to film that’s is incredibly fast and making the film has really made me appreciate how brilliant it is to get to shoot adverts.
Also, you can’t beat the diversity of working in commercials. One minute you are in Scotland shooting a funny NatWest advert for M&C 
Saatchi and the next you are in a studio filming 
an emotional scene for a McMillan cancer advert 
for VCCP. Of course it’s frustrating when things 
get changed by clients but I will always love shooting adverts.

Keeping Rosy was directed by Steve Reeves and co written with agency copywriter Mike Oughton. The DoP was Roger Pratt, the cinematographer behind many Harry Potter films. It tells the story of Charlotte (Maxine Peake), a lonely workaholic desperate to be cut a slice of the media agency she has devoted herself to building. But after she’s betrayed in the boardroom, she returns to her perfect docklands apartment and takes her anger out on her Polish cleaner with disastrous results.
Maxine Peake, Blake Harrison, Christine Bottomley, Elisa Lasowski
Steve Reeves
Steve Reeves, Mike Oughton
Richard Holmes, Isabelle Georgeaux
Roger Pratt
Stephen Warbeck
Scot Crane, Paul Watts
Production designer
Alex Marden
Art director
Toby Stevens

Posted 29 July 2014 by Jon Creamer

Factual features genre report

Factual features producers are using new shapes and tones and borrowing from other genres along the way to create a new generation of features hits. Jon Creamer reports

The big hitters of features TV have been around for a long while now.

IWC Media’s Location, Location, Location is 14 years old, Boundless’s Grand Designs has clocked up 15 years on our screens as has the BBC’s DIY SOS. Keo Films’ River Cottage brand is now 16 years old and who wouldn’t bet on The Great British Bake Off being around for some time yet.

The talent that sticks in features tends to stick around for a long time too. Alan Titchmarsh, who fronts Spun Gold’s Love Your Garden on ITV has been on screen since the early 80s. And then there’s Kirstie and Phil, Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein…

And it’s perhaps partly because the centre ground of features is so well occupied, that commissioners and producers alike are looking more to the edges of the genre, trying to find new shapes and new approaches.

“We need to be brave at the BBC,” says the corporation’s head of commissioning for factual features and formats, Alison Kirkham. “It’s very easy to commission something that feels nine degrees from what’s working on the channel already but the audience don’t reward that in my experience. I would love to be pitched more ideas that are unusual and unexpected. For me one of the standout hits of the past few years is Gogglebox. It works for a number of reasons but also it presents differently, the shape is different and the audience respond to that.”

Because there’s a sense that tackling features subjects in the traditional way isn’t good enough any more. “We’re having most success with a twist on the standard features genre,” says Neil Smith, creative director at Betty. “We’re still looking at the same areas – property, consumer, food, dating etc. But we’re borrowing from other genres so the delivery genre is not features, it’s not your standard presenter/reveal show.” He points to Betty’s recent property show for BBC2, Under Offer: Estate Agents On the Job. “There’s plenty of property porn in it but it’s done as ob doc” as well as Channel 4’s Shop Secrets “a consumer show which we did as hidden camera with stunts.” Upcoming C4 show Best Chef, Worst Chef will have “access to amazing restaurants and chefs but will be a formatted doc.”

Keo Film’s md Debbie Manners is similarly trying to mix and match. “We’re trying to look at things that sit across more than one genre, that aren’t in the traditional, obvious space.” Keo’s Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s last piece was Scandimania, a mix not just of just food programming but travel and culture too in a doc style. “It feels as if we need some new ideas and approaches to the way we make factual TV,” says Manners. “Some of what we’re trying to do is access driven features. You can use certain forms of access as a window into different types of features like property or food.”

That mix and match mentality is coming through over at Outline too, says creative director, Helen Veale. But instead of new takes on traditional genre areas “the target is thinking of other areas where you can bring a features sensibility.” Outline has a broadcast pilot in with the BBC, So You Think You Can Drive? about bad drivers. “We’ve taken an area that’s been done before in terms of documentary and character, but we’ve brought a features sensibility to it. It’s got all the great characters and entertainment you might get from a Driving School doc but we’re coming at it from a features slant [Dom Littlewood and Cherry Healey will present] so there’s going to be that take home for the viewers as well.” 

For Veale, that doc territory is a fertile ground for features. “It’s interesting to see where the crossover is between documentary and features and how you can get a little bit more structured learning into things that have previously been a doc territory” or conversely “where you can get unfolding character into things that have previously been a features territory.”

Though the single presenter to camera style isn’t going anywhere soon, there’s also a move to more ensemble cast for features shows, says Betty’s Smith. “We’ve been moving more to ensembles and finding our talent there.” He points to Estate Agents and upcoming Best Chef, Worst Chef in which a different café cook will learn from a different Michelin starred chef each week. “We’re using six Michelin starred chefs rather than one to present it.” Every commissioner’s current favourite Gogglebox is another example. “It’s an easier launch for the channel as they don’t have to pin their hopes on one person fronting a whole series.” And also individuals can then be plucked from the ensemble to front their own shows later on. “Mr Drew’s School for Boys is a parenting show as a fact ent proposition. And he came from another show where he wasn’t a presenter either.”

It could be argued that features programming has gone through one big change already. When the recession hit a few years back, features based on profligate spending, and unashamed property porn in particular, suddenly started to look less relevant.

And although there’s a feeling that the country is climbing out of the worst of it, the impact of the recession can still be felt in features. George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces and The House that £100k Built are post recession shows whereas Grand Designs is resolutely not. 

But says the BBC’s Kirkham, features shows must still feel aspirational. “Make do and mend can feel quite depressing. The Great Interior Design Challenge and others are aspirational recession shows. They demonstrate that even in periods where the economy is tight, people still have dreams and want to be able to realise their dreams beautifully. I was struck by a piece of audience research that said the desire to own a house increased during periods of recession.”

Features shows must reflect the economic mood of the nation, and while that mood isn’t as desperate as a couple of years ago, “people are still budget conscious,” says Betty’s Smith. “In Estate Agents we managed to smuggle in high-end property porn because we were jumping on the backs of people selling £80m property in Mayfair or estates in Scotland. But on traditional features, everyone has budgets on their minds. I don’t think we’ve come out of recession thinking ‘yeah, we’re rich.’ Cautious optimism is where we are in development for property. But it hasn’t affected food shows. Britain is more confident as a food nation than ever before.”

The recession seems to have kicked off a return to simple pleasures. “When life’s getting more expensive and we’re worrying how to make ends meet, people want to know how we can do things more cheaply ourselves like baking bread or growing veg,” says Spun Gold’s creative director Daniela Neumann. “But also it’s nice to go home and see beautiful things and watch artisans make these beautiful things. It’s food porn, craft porn. It’s eye candy too.”

But even as recession recedes, that desire for simpler pleasures isn’t going anywhere soon, says Outline’s Helen Veale. “It may well have been the recession that prompted that feeling but it’s enjoyable, it’s nice exploring those good things with traditional values. It’s wholesome and people like that.”

Outline has seen success with The Great British Garden Revival and The Great British Food Revival and, says Veale, those shows are part of a rich seam within features TV. “We struck a chord with the Revival strand.” Viewers are keen to “look back at things we may have lost, knowledge that our grandparents and parents had that we have lost touch with.” And that’s shown both in Revival and in Bake Off, Sewing Bee and The Big Allotment Challenge, says Veale. “There is still a thirst for that. I don’t think everyone wants to learn to be a Victorian chimney sweep, but in unsettled times, we find comfort in the simplicity of that older, traditional knowledge and there is more scope in development of that.”

And that feeling ties in with a desire for authenticity, even within formatted shows. “There’s still an appetite for formatted shows and constructed shows but ones where people are in a real environment as opposed to taking a group of people who just want to be on TV,” says Spun Gold’s Neumann. “In Bake Off those people are genuinely passionate about what they do. It’s about finding those people and tapping in to what those great British passions are.”

In factual TV in general, the talk is of a move from heavy formatting and towards ‘authenticity.’ “Audiences want more unmediated formats now,” says Channel 4’s head of factual entertainment, Liam Humphreys. “They want something a bit more observed rather than a heavily formatted show hitting all the traditional beats over the course of an hour’s makeover. You need to make it as authentic as possible and hide the hand of the producer.”

But then over in the US, there’s a move from observed character led features to more formatting, says Betty’s Neil Smith. “It’s interesting that we’re moving towards character led shows here. They’ve been doing that for features in the US for some time but interestingly now they’re looking more towards formats. A couple that have really broken recently are 90-day Fiancé and Naked and Afraid – a relationship show in the wild. Normally they want ‘character led, character led, family business’ but now they’re saying they want some old fashioned formats.” Perhaps the wheel is turning back once again.

UK commissioners: what they want
Alison Kirkham, BBC head of commissioning, factual features and formats
“On both channels I’m looking to push more into 9pm, to try to bring a different sensibility to our features output. We want more fact ent formats. The Gift is coming up from Wall to Wall that I hope will do that.
Also I’d love to commission more moments for the channel – I’m looking for the next generation of events for BBC2 that could be stripped across the week.
I’d be really keen to find some more specialist factual formats for BBC2 at 9pm like Who Do You Think You Are? and The Choir .
We need to be brave at the BBC. I would urge people to pitch shows that are not in various iterations on lots of channels. I’d love to see things that aren’t on UK TV at the moment.
I don’t think we’re ever done with competitions. There’s an appetite for them. But can we produce competitions that sit more authentically in the real world?
I’m keen to see more new, unexpected talent especially on BBC2. If you have talent you really believe in, I’m always keen to look at them and we’ll grow shows around them together.”

Liam Humphreys, C4, head of factual entertainment
“We’ve had success with male skewing factual features. Traditionally we do skew slightly female in the features space. Kevin McCloud’s Man Made Home was the first time we’ve dipped our toe in and thought ‘can we do something more male?’ Gadget Man has been a fresh take on the factual features space. It’s playing with what you’d expect from a factual features format. It’s a slight parody of it. 
What you have is a lifestyle presenter who finds aspects of life quite challenging. That’s quite refreshing rather than have someone mediate everything and tell you what to do and what not to do. There are people who do a great job for the channel and will do for a long time, but some of the challenges are around lifestyle presenters telling people how to live their lives when audiences want more unmediated formats now, something a bit more observed, a lightly formatted approach rather than hitting all the traditional beats over the course of an hour’s makeover.
The Island set up a construct then let everything play out. There’s a real need for authenticity. The more format we can take out and hide the better.”

Richard Watsham, UKTV director of commissioning
“We’ve reprioritised our commissioning spend towards the entertainment channels. We used to commission across Home and Good Food, Yesterday and Eden. Now we’ll still do that kind of programing but it will come through the entertainment channels first – Dave, Watch, Gold are the three channels commissioning. Any lifestyle content, because it’s going to premiere on one of those channels, will need to have more of an entertainment slant.
Don’t underestimate our sense of ambition. There are lots of ways of giving a show scale. It could be through talent or geography or through doing something no one ever seen before. It’s a case of being unique rather than distinctive. Distinctive isn’t really good enough for us. Creatively that’s a good thing, it forces us to take more risk and therefore come up with more interesting, unusual projects.”

Posted 23 July 2014 by Jon Creamer

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

All the work featured in the Storyboard pages of July's edition - Maleficent work from MPC; zombie carnage from Axis and an unsettling ad from Home Corp and Prime Focus

Led by MPC vfx supervisors Adam Valdez and Seth Maury, MPC completed 875 shots for Disney’s Maleficent. Working closely with director Rob Stromberg and production vfx super Carey Villegas, the team created a host of creatures and environments including the initial scenes of a young Maleficent in a fairy world environment and Maleficent’s iconic castle. MPC also created huge battle scenes, a cg thorn wall and a full CG dragon and Great Hall interior for the climactic battle sequence.

Prime Focus/ Home Corp
Home Corp director Bruce Hunt tasked Prime Focus Animation director Martyn Pick to create 180 hand-painted frames showing a turbulent sea on the stomach of a live action model, calmed by the introduction of an Imodium Liqui-gel. The producer was Jules Pye, lead art-worker was Sharon Pinsker and the art workers were Martin Oliver and Fiona Woodcock.

Imodium / Martyn Pick from Luma on Vimeo.

Blac Ionica
Mitsubishi and Golley Slater brought in Blacionica to shoot the latest TV and cinema campaign for Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, the world’s first plug-in hybrid 4x4 SUV. Tim Green was DoP on the shoot. 3D animation and design was by Tim Marchant, Rodi Kaya and Viktor Berg. Colour was by Envy and sound by SNK Media.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV from Blac Ionica on Vimeo.

These are two new game trailers from Axis. One for Microsoft Studios’ Crackdown for Xbox One and the other for Deep Silver’s Dead Island 2. Crackdown for Xbox One was directed by Stephen Donnelly. Director Ben Craig’s announcement trailer for Dead Island 2, the follow up to Dead Island, starts with a coiffeured Californian out for a beachside run and ends, inevitably, in zombie carnage.

Crackdown for Xbox One announcement trailer from axisanimation on Vimeo.

Dead Island 2 announcement trailer from axisanimation on Vimeo.

Spov completed this opening movie for Xbox One and Playstation 4 game, Watch_Dogs. Ubisoft Montreal asked Spov to visualise the interior workings of a super-connected network of devices, operating in a fictional near future version of Chicago, where the game takes place. Miles Christensen was creative director and Allen Leitch and Dan Higgott were exec producers.

Watch_Dogs Opening Title Sequence from Spov Design + Moving Image on Vimeo.

This is Jonny & Will of Blinkink’s second series of The Grumpy King, their Bafta-nominated series for Cartoon Network.

The Mill+
The Mill+ and Lovestone Film created a formidable CGI Bull developed in Cinema4D promoting Prefa’s weather-wearing tiles.

Behind the Scenes: Prefa 'Panzerstier' from The Mill on Vimeo.

Earth London
RedBee Media tasked Earth London with the promo for The BBC’s coverage of the Queen’s Baton Relay for the Commonwealth Games.

Queen’s Baton Relay on BBC from Earth London on Vimeo.

Mob Films
Mob Films’ Paul W.S. Anderson directed the new VW campaign, showing the cars are too safe for his trademark action shots.

Posted 09 July 2014 by Jon Creamer

The art of the costume designer: Jany Temime

Jany Temime: Costume designer: Gravity, Skyfall, six of the Harry Potter series, Children of Men 


Costume design is artistic, dramatic, you have to understand the script brilliantly. You have to be able to visualise it and understand what the director wants to tell. And at the same time you are running an enormous department. 


People approach the job in different ways. Some do it because they like to design clothes, but those ones would like to work in fashion. If you want to make costumes for films it is because you love the making of films. Your job will be projected on to the screen, it will be photographic. You have to have all the support of the film to be able to see your work on screen. 


You work with a director. You have to visualise the ideas of somebody else. It’s not my film it’s their film. That’s a humility that designers don’t have when they start. After you’ve made a few films you realise that you are a service department and you have to help somebody express their ideas and vision. You’re as good as your director is. This is why I only want to work with brilliant directors because the rest is a waste of time. 


Every actor has a different morphology and a different style. They are the ones carrying your costume. You have to help them to create the part. You cannot design the same costume for Tom Cruise or Daniel Craig; they walk differently, they approach the part differently. 

On the big films you have four months. It’s a very short time, the first month is the birth month you’re deciding which way you should go. Then after that it’s very technical. But the director has spent three years or four years with this, the producer too. I arrive then I’ve got to produce 600 or 500 costumes very quickly. The time is a bit too short but that’s always the story.


Gravity was the hardest thing I did in my life, it’s hard to beat NASA but I’m sorry, my costumes look better than their’s ever did. Did you ever see the Russian suits? They looked like teletubbies, Sandra looked sexy in mine. I think I did a better job than them, I’m still waiting for them to ask me to design for them.

Every DoP photographs your costumes differently. On Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the film was very dark but Bruno Delbonnel photographed the dark costumes so brilliantly you could see every single detail. Every single stitch and embroidery could be seen. 


On Gravity Emmanuel Lubezki  is the most difficult, brilliant, amazing DoP. To get the white of the suits I had to show him 50 different shades of white and I’m not even joking. Every film brings you something different. The costume is not to be shown hanging in a wardrobe it has to be shown on the screen.


Jany Temime’s BAFTA Masterclass on costume design is at BFI Southbank on 23 July


Posted 02 July 2014 by Jon Creamer
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