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

In this month’s round up of the best in animation, motion graphics and vfx, Axis cuts through for Infinity Blade, Studio AKA tells TSB’s story and Picasso shows some good will

Axis Animation
Infinity Blade: Origins short

Animation studio Axis and director Ben Hibon created this short film to introduce the latest instalment of the Infinity Blade: Origins video game. The film is designed to give newcomers and long standing fans a different perspective on the story of the Infinity Blade franchise. Hibon developed an illustrated take on the game’s art direction using both 3d and 2d animation and re-imagined the game’s main characters in his own design style. Working directly from Hibon’s designs the Axis team built the stylised 3d characters and used a mixture of texturing and shading to give them their 2d feel. These were then layered up with 3d and 2d hand-animated visual effects and environments creating a bold hand crafted feel.

Infinity Blade: Origins from axisanimation on Vimeo.

Studio AKA
TSB Bank spot

Studio AKA director Marc Craste and Damon Collins at Joint are behind this film for the relaunched TSB bank brand. The spot tells the story of the Reverend Henry Duncan and the history behind the building of the TSB bank showing the bank still has traditional values in a modern world. Craste chose to combine 2d hand drawn character animation within 3d cgi sets.

TSB - The Story from STUDIO AKA on Vimeo.

VW Feeling Carefree

Passion Pictures’ John Robertson was asked to pay homage to seminal promo Take On Me by A-ha for this VW Passat spot. Ordered by Deutsch Inc LA, Feeling Carefree pastiches many of the iconic moments from the original promo with the new VW Passat worked in to the film as a central character. Passion used a crew of 2d artists using pencil and paper to create the iconic shots.

Goodwill Stuff

New directing duo Alex & Remy, of The Pod (Picasso Pictures’ new directors offshoot) directed this, their first commercial project for US charity Goodwill via Saatchi & Saatchi NY. The textural, cgi, online film asks people to donate unneeded household items to the charity which in turn sells it to fund job training in the local community. The producer was Inga Johnson.

Goodwill - Stuff from Picasso Pictures on Vimeo.

Angels and Ghosts
Ticktockrobot’s Sara Kenney directed this 15 minute short. It was funded by the Wellcome Trust and tells the true story of a girl’s struggle with psychosis in her family. The film's purpose is to highlight a common problem and to direct people to the Angels and Ghosts website (which Ticktockrobot also built]. It was narrated by Samantha Morton.

Angels&Ghosts Trailer from ticktockrobot on Vimeo.

Not to Scale
Payments Councils ad

Not To Scale’s Pierre + Bertrand directed this stop frame style cg ad for bank switching body The Payments Council for Partners Andrews Aldridge.

Pierre + Bertrand - Payment Council - Simpler World from Not To Scale on Vimeo.

Happy Hour
Dave Gorman titles

Happy Hour created titles for Liberty Bell ‘s new Dave Gorman series Modern Life Is Goodish on Dave. The titles were directed by Gareth Owen.

Dave Gorman's "Modern Life Is Goodish" title sequence from Happy Hour Productions on Vimeo.

WWF We Don't Farm Like This

Fieldtrip directors againstallodds’ latest is for WWF showing what ‘bottom trawling’ fishing would look like repeated on farm land.

G4S online film

This online film for G4S’s Emergency Preparedness Suite was made by Wonky. The director was Miki Cash and the producer Vicky Brophy.

Posted 15 October 2013 by Jon Creamer

Drama: Anne Mensah on what Sky wants

Anne Mensah is Sky’s head of drama and commissions across Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts and Sky Movies. She explains what shows work well for her and what she’s looking for in the future

What’s worked well recently?
We are really excited about the shows we are launching this autumn. The amazing Strikeback and Mad Dogs will be back on Sky 1; for Mad Dogs it’s the last outing and so we are planning a huge finale. We will also have new shows such as The Tunnel on Sky Atlantic, Dracula and the Drama Matters pilots season on Sky Living and the fantastic adventure tale Moonfleet also for Sky 1. Playhouse Presents returned to Sky Arts earlier this year with a phenomenal line up both on and off screen – Kylie Minogue, Idris Elba, Matt Smith, Anna Friel, Marc Warren amongst many more…

What upcoming shows are you excited about?
I’m excited about all our new shows – we have a huge range of series coming up that hopefully will showcase the diversity of our channels and Sky Drama’s output. From Dominic Cooper in our biopic of Ian Fleming’s life to Jamie Bamber and Jodie Whittaker in The Smoke for Sky 1. I really think that there will be something for everyone in the mix.

What defines a Sky drama commission?
Scale, humour and emotion – and maybe a bit naughty or audacious. Sometimes they can be dark but certainly never miserable. With any commission, we’re always conscious to give customers a different offering to what can be found on terrestrial TV.

What are you looking for right now?
Big characters who can surprise us.

What genres work well for you?
We are lucky enough to commission for five seperate channels (Sky 1, Sky Living, Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts and Sky Movies) and that means we can carry pretty much any tone and any genre somewhere on our channels. I think it is one of the most liberating things about working with Sky – the depth and range of what we can do here.

Is there particular talent that works for you?
No – we love diversity on and off screen – with The Smoke, Lucy Kirkwood is writing her first series for Sky 1 whilst Carnivale creator, Dan Knauf is writing Dracula for Sky Living. We’ve had Vanessa Redgrave in a Sky Arts Playhouse, Ray Winstone is in Moonfleet whilst Gemma Fay, the lead actress in Annie Griffin’s pilot Reubenesque, is the goalkeeper and captain of the Scottish Ladies Football team.

What slots are now important?
We don’t tend to focus on slots.

Do you need of serials, one-offs or long series?
No, we will work with any project and hopefully find the slot that best fits the idea. Moonfleet is 2x60’ whilst Fortitude (which we are making for Sky Atlantic) is 13 x 60’.
Do you have a large development slate?
No, we tend to keep the slate small so the people we are working with know that they are not in competitive development nor in a beauty parade.

What kind of drama is not working so well 
for you?
Honestly, I can’t think of anything specific which wouldn’t necessarily work at Sky – it goes back to my earlier point, that the luxury of commissioning for a portfolio of channels is that we have a choice of homes for different dramas.

Which drama shows on rival channels have you admired recently?
I admire most things on the other channels as I know how hard it is to make good work. British drama is in such good health at the moment. It’s a really exciting time.

Tell us about what you’ve been watching, reading and listening to outside of work?
I’m a huge fan of musicals so I can’t recommend The Book of Mormon highly enough. Unless, of course, you are very sensitive. In which case try Matilda.

Posted 11 September 2013 by Jon Creamer

Sue Bourne's Fabulous Fashionistas

Sue Bourne’s documentary Fabulous Fashionistas tells the story of old women growing old with glamour, all shot on a then very untested camera set up. Jon Creamer reports
Back in 2011, documentary maker Sue Bourne had just released her first feature, Jig.

That film, about the Irish Dancing World Championships, had taken a relatively smooth route to funding with the bulk of the money supplied by BBC Scotland, another tranche from Creative Scotland and most of the rest from BBC network – all in all a pretty painless experience, “So I got all excited about doing another feature,” says Bourne. 

By last year, Bourne was lined up to shoot her next feature doc, a film made with a New York street photographer “about the glamorous older women in New York.” But the film’s finances had a more dramatic narrative arc than Jig’s. With most of the money in place, she headed to New York for the shoot “and then the whole thing fell apart.” And Bourne headed back to the UK disappointed. “It’s getting harder and harder to get funding for features. It sucks the life out of you,” she says.

But the idea of making a film about fashion conscious older women didn’t disappear. “The older I get the more interested I am in finding out how you can make old age fun,” says Bourne. She’d already made Bus Pass Bandits back in 2001 about old age pensioners who took to crime in their sunset years and knew that “it’s hard getting people to commission a film about old people. You’ve got to think of a way of coming in” and the “the prism of fashion” was a way that would “at least be visual.” But “really it was a front, it was about spirit.”
Back to the small screen
Channel 4 Cutting Edge commissioner Emma Cooper then stepped in and ordered a British version of the idea for TV. “She said ‘why don’t you just do it in Britain?’” And although the Brits weren’t going to match up on the glamour front (“they don’t dress like the New Yorkers,”) they might offer more in spirit. “I’d met a lot of these women in New York and found them a bit superficial. There was brittleness to them.”

She then went about finding her fashionistas, which was “like finding a needle in a haystack,” as the subjects had to be at least 70, and preferably a lot older. “A couple of people didn’t want to be in the film as they didn’t want people to know how old they were. One fantastic entrepreneur didn’t want her bank manager to know because she’d just borrowed a lot of money.” And it couldn’t just be clothes horses. “They had to have a significant other story too.”

Get the look
As with all her films, Bourne took a long time getting to know her subjects before producing a camera. “I’m trying to boil down the essence of what I think their story is. I spend ages on that.” And when she does produce a camera, she’s never holding it. “I’m not good technically so I work with cameramen who are marvellous. I never work with shooting APs or any of that, only with proper cameramen.”

And the film, focussed as it is on colour and glamour, had to look good. But a verite doc needs a camera that can move a lot too.

Bourne and cameraman Tony Miller eventually decided on the Sony F55, despite the model being relatively untested in the field. “People said ‘you’re mad to be the first person to use it. You’ve got no back up or resources, you are the smallest production company in Britain.’ It’s just me and the dog.” And so after an initial panic about getting the workflow right, Bourne called in Envy who spent some time testing the camera, setting up the workflow and looking after the whole post production process.

A new camera is always a worry for a small producer but Miller was keen to use it, expecting it to combine the depth of field of the Canon C300 with the portability of a camera that could be taken on the run. “The last couple of years I’ve got back to doing some cinema docs again and really enjoyed shooting with the [Arri] Alexa because of the shallow depth of field,” says Miller. “But it’s just too heavy. Unless you have a big crew it’s hard to shoot documentary successfully with it.” And so the F55 “seemed like a really exciting choice. It’s much smaller and with the Fujinon 19-90 and 85-300 you’ve got two lenses and a set up that you can conceive of making work for a handheld verite documentary.” He says he was “impressed by it” despite “codec problems” and some “bad ergonomics” but “it works, it’s small and it’s very cheap. For the first time, you can shoot a doc Alexa style with a 35mm depth of field on two zooms and that’s great.”                                    

Director Sue Bourne’s latest doc is an exploration of growing old with style. The film focuses on six women with an average age of 80 who have a youthful attitude and distinct personal style.
Wellpark Productions
Channel 4
Sue Bourne
Commissioning editor
Emma Cooper
Executive producer
Grant McKee
Tony Miller
Joby Gee
Associate producer
George Hencken
Stills photography
Christopher Kennedy
Marc Hatch
Jack Ketch
Additional filming
Lawrence Gardner
Kuz Randhawa
Dubbing mixer
Matt Skilton
Online editor
Adam Grant
Production team
Emily Turner
Hils Barker
Will Moore

Posted 04 September 2013 by Jon Creamer

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

In this month’s round up of the best in animation, motion graphics and vfx, Rogue gets pyrotechnic, Prime Focus pays homage to A-Ha and Trunk flies south for the winter

Rogue/The Mill

This is Rogue director Sam Brown’s first music video since his Grammy award winning Rolling in the Deep for Adele. Strong is the second single from London Grammar. The pyrotechnic promo was shot at the 6th St Viaduct in LA and shows a tender scene between father and daughter as the father gives the girl a fantastic fireworks show by covering himself in rockets and roman candles and letting her light them.The producers were Charlie Crompton (London) Dom Gomez (London) Sue Yeon Ahn (LA). The director of photography was Autumn Cheyenne Durald. The film was edited at Final Cut by Amanda James. Post was at The Mill and Mill colourist Seamus O’Kane graded the spot. Chris Batten was vfx producer and the 2D Artist was Chris Scott.

London Grammar - 'Strong' - Directed by Sam Brown from Rogue Films on Vimeo.

Gelato Go Home

Another short made for Channel 4’s Random Acts is this film, Gelato Go Home, made by Trunk directors Alasdair & Jock. The film seeks to answer the question “where do ice-cream vans go in the winter?” and was inspired by “nature documentaries, Japanese animation and with nods to classic shorts like The Snowman.”

GELATO GO HOME (Director's Cut) from Trunk Animation on Vimeo.

Prime Focus
Red Bull

Prime Focus Commercials VFX London delivered 60 seconds of hand-drawn animation in a three minute promo film for Red Bull F1/Infiniti car. The A-Ha-style spot involved over 2500 drawings made in the traditional style and then art worked, scanned, composited and graded. The animation director was Eoin Clarke, the exec producer was Jules Pye.

Salad and Synexus

Two from Th1ng this time. The first is Anthony Farquhar-Smith’s stop frame spot for Florette salad’s One Minute Wonders campaign, showing veggies dodging a spaghetti spoon shark. The second, again directed by Farquhar-Smith, for Synexus’ asthma Clinical Research Studies shows a little lost breath on a busy city street.

Florette's One Minute Wonder from Clintrharding on Vimeo.

th1ng: 'Lost Your Breath?' Synexus - Anthony Farquhar Smith from th1ng on Vimeo.

The Studio

The Studio @ Smoke & Mirrors was hired directly by MBNA to create the new spot for its “affinity” credit cards. The spot shows the cards building a ‘little big world’ including hospitals, stadiums and entire cities. The Studio came up with the creative and directed all the animation in-house. The director/ compositor was Dan Andrew.

MBNA - The Power Behind Your Credit Cards from Dan Andrew on Vimeo.

Not to scale

Not to Scale’s Matthias Hoegg directed short Upstairs for C4’s Random Acts slot about the inexplicable noises made by the neighbours.


Ticktockrobot’s Jun Iwakawa’s short is an infographic guide to caring for a new born baby including sleeping, feeding and poo cleaning

Handle With Care - Trailer from ticktockrobot on Vimeo.


Peepshow’s Pete Mellor and Adrian Johnson created this animation for a US online school programme following a day in the life of a student.

Meet Marcus: A K12 Day-in-the-Life from Peepshow Collective on Vimeo.


Griffilms created these animations for an S4C doc about the children’s author Mary Vaughan Jones and her character Tomos Caradog.

Posted 03 September 2013 by Jon Creamer

Tony Grisoni on creating Southcliffe

Screenwriter Tony Grisoni tells Jon Creamer about portraying the extraordinary reality of the grief and loss experienced by a small town visited by an enormous tragedy

Red Riding and Tideland writer Tony Grisoni’s latest is Southcliffe, a four part drama that examines the stories of grief and loss experienced by the inhabitants of a small seaside town following a shooting spree by a local inhabitant.

What was the starting point for the drama?
I wanted to do something about losing someone close to you. About the grief, the sense of loss you go through. And I was very clear I wanted to interview real people and hear their stories about having lost someone close to them. I wanted to be guided by the reality of that situation. I didn’t want to make it up and fall into the lazy traps and all those horrible clichés. I wanted to hear what might be a less tidy truth and be guided by these people’s stories. My first interest was in the relationship between people who are still living and those who have died.

Was it commissioned on that basis?
[Exec producer] Peter Carlton pitched that to Channel 4 and said ‘right, it sounds like they’re going to commission us.’ It was very quick. The channel gave me a huge amount of freedom.

What did the interviews consist of?
I wanted them to tell me about their experience of having lost someone and I wanted to ask if they’d had any experience of the supernatural. I worked with three researchers. They put out ads and invited people to get in touch. Then I read the interviews and heard the tapes and collected the stories and very gradually out of these stories characters started to emerge.

Why the setting of Faversham and its surrounds?
I like the flatness of it and the saltmarshes. There’s a beautiful bleakness to it and Faversham became a real place to anchor the drama to. If I wanted a scene in a pub I’d know the pub; if I wanted a scene in a boatyard or a street or certain part of the coast I had the exact place in my head.

How is the story structured?
I wanted to tell the story in a non-linear way. It seemed a more exciting thing to do. In a very early draft we know whodunit in the first scene. We now know whodunit at the end of the first episode but it isn’t the most important thing, it’s not a whodunit, it’s more of a what happened. I was interested in what happens when you know someone has done something dreadful; then you see a scene from much earlier and I know that the audience would be watching that person all the time. They could do the most mundane thing but if you know they’ve done something really terrible, you’d watch them and watch their relationships with people in a different way. That interested me.
And I noticed from the interviews with people that often they describe things in a way which sounds as if time and space had been smashed up for them. They’d say ‘I have conversations with her still, I can still hear their voice sometimes or I think they’re still in the house.’ It’s an extraordinary thing but their experience of it has an ordinariness to it. It’s not science fiction, it’s a real experience so it felt right to echo that as well. That’s not a ghostly thing but it’s more than a memory somehow. The drama strongly reflects the fact that just because someone is physically gone it doesn’t mean their influence or the sense of them has disappeared.

Was this always a TV idea?
It was always very much television. That was the starting point. It’s four hours of drama to play with and that’s very exciting. Television seems to be entering a golden age of drama. I get a huge amount of freedom as a writer.

Did the story continue to develop as it was produced?
When [director] Sean Durkin came on board we sat down and went through the scripts and we continued the development of them. I was writing 
all the way through the shooting of them and through the editing as well. It didn’t stop dead. You lock off to a certain extent because you’ve got to go and shoot something, you’ve got to have a schedule but we were always opening up possibilities, examining possibilities. It’s a very exciting way of working. As a writer I don’t want to be waving the ship goodbye at the dock. During the shoot I’ll see all the rushes every day. So I know what’s working and what isn’t working. I’m up to speed so if we need a scene to be rewritten or a new scene to be written I’m there for that. There are great benefits to be had from the writer being on that project right the way through. I feel I have a responsibility to the drama until it’s delivered.                          

Production company
Warp Films in association with Borderline Films
Derrin Schlesinger
Executive producer
Peter Carlton for Warp Films, Sophie Gardiner for Channel 4.
Sean Durkin
Tony Grisoni
Line producers
Dean O’Toole, Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo
Production designer
Tom Bowyer
Post supervisor
Mike Morrison
Rory Kinnear, Sean Harris, Shirley Henderson, Eddie Marsan, Anatol Yusef, Nichola Burley, Joe Dempsie and Kaya Scodelario.
Commissioned by
C4 head of drama, Piers Wenger
TX date

Posted 31 July 2013 by Jon Creamer

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

In Televisual Magazine’s roundup of the best of the month in animation, vfx and motion graphics, Shynola and Jellyfish take it easy; Nexus gives Honda a hand and Riff Raff shrink Ikea’s world

Warp, Shynola, Jellyfish
Dr Easy

Warp Films, directing team Shynola and vfx specialists Jellyfish collaborated on this new short film Dr Easy. The film is designed as a prologue for a planned feature, an adaptation of the novel The Red Men, by Matthew De Abaitua. The film tells the story of a medical emergency robot, designed to deal with sensitive and traumatic incidents. A white collar worker (played by Tom Hollander) down on his luck, is holed up in a derelict flat, armed with a shot gun and surrounded by police. Dr Easy is sent in to try to negotiate with the desperate man. Jellyfish and Shynola teamed up to bring the robot to life and completed the modelling, rigging, lighting, shading, compositing and finishing in Softimage/ Arnold and Nuke. The animation was done by Shynola in Softimage with the help of Jellyfish’s animation team.

Dr. Easy from Shynola on Vimeo.

Honda Hands

Nexus directors Smith and Foulkes are behind the new Honda Hands film from W+K London. The brand film shows a Honda engineer’s hands transforming Honda’s products across the years. 
Exec creative director was Chris  O’Reilly and the producer was Tracey Cooper. The DoP was Clive Norman and the edit was by Paul Hardcastle and David Slade.

Travis promo

RSA filmmakers Wriggles & Robins and MPC’s Motion Design Studio teamed up on Travis’s new promo Moving that shows a series of animations live projected on to the band’s breath. All of the animations and projections were filmed in real time, negating the need for any vfx in post-production. The vfx producer on the promo was Alannah Currie.

Riff Raff
Ikea spot

Ikea’s new campaign Make Small Spaces Big, which promotes Ikea’s space-saving and multifunctional furniture and product ranges launches with this TV spot One Room Paradise. Ordered by Mother, it’s directed by Riff Raff Films’ Megaforce and is set in a doll’s house with a mother and son using Ikea’s products to enjoy life in their small flat. Post was at Finish.

Ikea / One Room Paradise from riffraff films on Vimeo.


M&C Saatchi chose th1ng directors Will Barras and Shay Hamias to create the TV and cinema commercial for MindFull, a new charity launched by the Beat Bullying Group which helps teenagers with depression, bullying, self image issues and other problems. A live action shot of a teenage boy in a dark room, moves into a series of hand-drawn animations to convey his hidden emotions.

space shor
Lola worked with writer/director Jamie Stone to polish off the opening sequence of this BFI funded short film set in space, Orbit Ever After.

Orbit Ever After - Trailer from Jamie Stone on Vimeo.

Studio AKA

Studio AKA joined with Blacklist and Y&R California to create these spots for Blue Diamond Almond Breeze drink.

Studio AKA // Blue Diamond 'Welcome to Breezeville' from Blacklist on Vimeo.

insurance ad

Agency Doe Anderson tasked Picasso directing duo Jens & Anna with making this ad promoting a new Kentucky health insurance service.

Kynect - Healthcare from Picasso Pictures on Vimeo.

Isle of MTV

Mainframe helped supervise on MTV director Rich Knight’s Malta shoot and created speaker shell animations in the Isle of MTV promos.

Isle of MTV from Mainframe on Vimeo.

Posted 24 July 2013 by Jon Creamer

The art of development

Getting the greenlight for a TV show can be an uphill struggle. Jon Creamer asks five heads of development at leading indies about generating programme ideas, building them and selling them

Every indie with a successful show on screen, even a long running international hit, knows that nothing lasts forever. The ratings winners of today will one day run out of steam and be cancelled.
Indies need to keep up the push to generate and develop new ideas or lose momentum and come to a dead stop. So all indies have to make sure they aren’t just sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike.

The development team is charged with creating a system, or an environment where programme ideas are constantly generated, thought through, tested, pitched, and hopefully, commissioned. But in straitened times, broadcasters are expecting ideas to be worked up to a much greater extent than in the past before they’ll sign on the dotted line.

So the journey to the pitch, and to the greenlight, is getting longer with indies having to put more work into making sure their programme ideas will get the crucial second tick from the channel controller.

But there is no one way to generate ideas or develop them. Much depends on the channel, the programme, the target audience and of course, the genre. All indies take their main cues from briefings with commissioning editors, but they also need to listen to what the commissioners want, but then try to come back to them with something that they weren’t quite expecting. Or come back to them with something they didn’t even know they wanted in the first place.

Paul Woolf
Maverick tv
head of development

We use a variety of ways of generating ideas. We’ll work on generating ideas as a full team, sometimes break into smaller groups or we might ask people to think individually.  Sometimes a commissioner needs an idea on particular topic, or we might decide there’s a gap in the market for a particular type of show and then brainstorm that. Everyone on the team is drawing from different sources – the newspapers they read, the social media they use, the friends they have. We have access to bits of market research and information about audiences and we definitely draw on those but they tend to inform the way we shape ideas rather than the way we source ideas.

Often development works best when it feels like a creative collaboration with commissioning editors. We’re responding to their steers as well as taking them ideas we’ve generated without their input. What doesn’t work well is when you go back to the commissioning editor and almost repeat their brief to them. Commissioning editors are capable of coming up with their own ideas so we’re not doing our job if what we go back with is so generic that they could get it from any company they talk to about it. Our job is to marry their brief with what Maverick does well, so we go back to them with something fairly unique. Part of our job is also to figure out what might work well in six months or a year’s time when the programme we’re hopefully going to make for them is on air. It’s about thinking ahead and trying not to repeat what’s working on the channel at the moment.

Caroline Hollick
Red production company
head of development

The ideal way [to generate ideas] is for a writer to come to you with an idea they passionately want to write. But in a changing market, with so many new channels and other production companies and so many people to compete for the writers’ time we have started generating our own ideas in house too. The easiest ideas to generate in house tend to have a factual basis. The very good writers are very busy and the more you can do for them in advance the more you might be able to make them think ‘I see the story in that’ rather than, ‘Oh God! I see six months of research.’

Often one of the department will go through every series on TV to see which writers they liked. We talk a lot to the Royal Exchange about up and coming playwrights. With new writers it’s a long-term game. You’re unlikely to get a brand new writer a TV series but you want to start the relationship and be supportive and talk to them about how television works and hopefully, when they 
have the clout to move into television, you’ve got a relationship with them so they’ll come back to work with you.

We have a big slate which has projects on it in different sections from those about to go into production down to two lines from a writer we’re in discussion with. We also have a whole rejected section, nothing ever goes off it. We go through that often as there are plenty of projects that we have made that have been six or seven years in the development process so they’ve probably been rejected quite a few times.

Dom Waugh
Remarkable Television
Head of development

The bread and butter of our pitching comes from commissioner briefs. Development is a strange place to be when you have a blank page. You end up thinking up ways to give yourself boundaries in which to work otherwise you get slightly lost. Even if you come up with a concept out of the blue you still need to say that’s a nice thought but what if it was for C4 at 8pm or BBC1 at 9pm? How would that affect what you’re doing? It’s about knowing the audiences coming to that channel and how the idea will be affected by that.

Gameshows are quite self referential. You want to bring something new to the table so that people get excited but if you went completely off piste it would be hard for audiences to take in what’s going on as there’s such a grammar that runs through them. There has to be  cosiness and a familiarity.

You find out with game shows quite quickly what doesn’t work. You can have what you think is a great idea and within a week it falls flat on its face because of a format point. You need those moments of jeopardy and entertainment but sometimes, even though it sounded like a good idea, when you run it through it’s really boring. Game shows aren’t worth the paper they’re written on until someone’s seen the run through. We spend a lot of time talking to the commissioner throughout the process of development but you have to do the run through for them. If you just sat down and wrote a pitch document for a game show it reads more like an instruction manual.

Juliet Denison
head of development

The most important thing is to put together a good team. It’s also about not keeping them forever. That sets us apart from other genres with longer development periods or more research based development. The team I’ve got now will not be the same team in five months because after you get to know each other you bring things to the conversation that you know someone else is going to like or laugh at so you’re almost self editing. Even though it’s a real pain when you’ve got a lovely team, I always make myself do that because it works for us. A lot of people come back but then they’re working with different people so you’re always looking for a different dynamic.

Commissioners are the ones with the big picture not just in terms of that channel and what the brand values are or what the slots are or even just the personalities of the people they work for. If you know that what you take away from that meeting with the commissioner is crucial, you get better at asking questions that are not just ‘what do you want?’ It’s about discovering what’s worked for them, why do they think it has worked, what’s at the heart of that successful show, what were the insights about the audience that they learned? It’s about asking around what they want. It’s lazy to say ‘what do you want?’ It’s up to us to try to solve that problem. Most of the channels do a lot of research and it’s about trying to extract that from them.

Whether they’re vox popping or bringing people into brainstorms, all the teams are encouraged to get to know the audiences those commissioners care about. The audience is at the heart of everything we do. If someone came to me and said ‘I’ve got this great idea’, I will say ‘Which channel is it great for and which audience is it great for?’ If they can’t answer that, it’s probably not so great. We’re fortunate in that we’ve got a research department in Fremantle and we ask for help from them. They have a relationship with Ipsos MORI and we can sometimes ask for some specific research. Everything’s got to lead to getting to know the audience.

We never pitch until we’re really ready. You can do all that work and you’ve got one hour in the room. With a panel show, like Sweat the Small Stuff, we went in and talked about the area and the talent we wanted to bring in. They wanted us to work that up on paper but we really pushed for a run through because if they don’t like the talent on a panel show there’s no point working it up. If the chemistry’s right then we’re confident we can get the content right. But there’s no point coming up with loads of content because if the commissioners don’t like the talent, that show’s not going to go any further.

Tim Harcourt
Studio Lambert
Head of development

We run awaydays and brainstorming sessions but often the starting point can come from an observation in your everyday life. You listen to what your friends talk about, what people on the tube talk about, what’s in the papers, magazines. We don’t use specific market research as a starting point for ideas. We’re pitching into the terrestrials first and foremost, so we’re trying to keep things broad - good ideas that are well made and populist. There’s no definite technique for coming up with ideas. One good way, though it’s not fool proof, is colliding two pre-existing thoughts, shows, ideas or genres. There’s probably no new idea in itself under the sun. It’s all about reversioning what’s familiar to the audience and making it feel unfamiliar. Tastes don’t change massively. People want things presented to them in fresh ways but the core concerns don’t change.

The commissioners may say they want something quite specific. I tend not to get involved in those ideas. It’s so crowded because then everyone’s trying to pitch into that. My attitude is we come up with the ideas that we love and that we can maybe make for more than one channel and try to back those. We will respond to specific commissioner’s briefs if they approach us but it’s thinking about what we think they need or might like. If you take them an idea and it’s not one that lots of people are pitching, it will feel fresher to the commissioners. Everyone’s always after the next big thing but neither the creatives or the buyers will necessarily know when they’ve got that in their hands. The next big thing certainly won’t be commissioned as the next big thing.

Of the shows we’re really passionate about at any one time there’s around a dozen on the slate. The process of selling is a lot slower than it used to be but sometimes when there’s an idea that’s so great we might throw everything at it for a week or two to get it in a pitchable condition because its burning a hole in your pocket. Some we’ll make a sizzle tape for and take it out to pitch. Commissioners are increasingly busy and they’re having to sell up to the channel heads all the time. If they’ve got a sizzle or a little bit of film, it makes it easier for selling internally.

Some shows only really have a home on one or two places. When we pitched Gogglebox in my mind that show was Channel 4 or bust.With some ideas there are one or two homes and they need slightly reskinning for each channel. Undercover Boss probably could have worked on all four of the main channels it was so universal. It’s not our sole ambition but a big part of the company is creating formats that can work around the world. You can’t bank on it but it’s definitely at the back of our mind.

Posted 17 July 2013 by Jon Creamer

Behind the scenes: Jane Campion's Top Of The Lake

Celebrated movie director Jane Campion’s latest is a six part crime drama TV series for the BBC set amidst the breathtaking landscape of New Zealand’s South Island. Jon Creamer reports

Director Jane Campion came to international prominence back in 1993 with the release of her movie The Piano which starred Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel and went on to make Campion the second ever woman to recieve a best director Oscar nomination and the first woman to win the Palme d’Or.

Small screen moves
Her career to date, apart from 1990 film An Angel at My Table that was shown as a mini-series before its theatrical release, has exclusively been centred in the movie world.

But her latest project is a six part TV crime drama series for BBC2/Sundance Channel and antipodean channel UKTV. The series, with its strange mix of characters and twisting storyline is part Twin Peaks, part The Killing, part Deliverance and very Jane Campion. It stars Holly Hunter, Peter Mullan, Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss and the amazing landscape of New Zealand’s South Island.

Campion’s decision to embark on a television project was driven by a few impulses. Not least, she says, because in recent years, television had become a much more desirable destination for directors and writers. “I was really inspired by some of the HBO television like Deadwood. I though that television was commissioning amazing material and in a way they had a more loyal, more interesting audience than film.” TV also offered the opportunity to create something with a little more depth. “I was really excited about doing something that was reaching my limit rather than containing yourself to be OK for a movie audience.”

But it was also simply the expansive nature of the Top of the Lake idea that made TV its natural home. “I liked the idea of having something novel length. I like novels and this was too wide and big for a film.”

She also felt the project was too big for one writer and one director, and so brought in friend and co-writer Gerard Lee and (Academy Films’ commercials director) Garth Davis to co-direct.

The initial inspiration, she says, was the landscape itself. The series is filmed within the lakes and mountains near Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island (the setting for Lord of the Rings) where Campion has a holiday home and that gave her the main starting image of the film, 12 year old Tui walking neck deep into the freezing waters of the lake. At the same time she was “starting to feel stimulated about the idea of a crime mystery story” and so began talking about characters and stories with co-writer Lee. And the characters are a strange bunch – from women’s refuge guru GJ (played by Holly Hunter) to alpha male druglord Matt Mitcham played by Peter Mullan, to town drunk Putty and paedophile Wolfgang Zanic. And while the series is very dark, it’s also marked by its humour. “With Gerard and myself that’s our key quality,” says Campion. “We can be very funny and very serious. I really think that’s my favourite quality about it. It’s very funny and also not funny.”

Film on TV
It’s also very filmic. While Campion was keen on TV for its ability to tell a novel sized story, she was wary of its often-limited budgets in comparison to the movie world. “Too often television ends up like a rehearsal for something that never really gets done because there’s not enough time and money to do it properly.” But there was money enough for Top of the Lake. The BBC’s Ben Stephenson came in first and then producers See Saw Films “found more money, probably doubled it, that enabled us to tell the story that can work and makes you excited.” A certain level of budget means “you can have planned shots. With a lot of television it’s shoot the scene anyhow because we’ve got to get on to the next one. You can’t do another take, they’ve said their lines and we’re off.”

It also meant the team could be picky about getting the best out of the stunning landscape. “When you’re in it, it feels perfect and gorgeous but when you put a camera there you realise it’s the usual thing that landscapes only really look good in the morning and at night. Everything looks flat in the middle of the day. My DoP Mark and Gareth the co-director were brilliant at insisting we’d only shoot at that time of day.”

But the schedule was still a learning curve for Campion. “We did have to go a lot faster than I was used to.” She also had to get used to shooting with two cameras to speed the process up. “You get a rhythm. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up with [DoP] Adam Arkapaw and [co-director] Garth Davis but they helped me and I helped them.”                                                     ν

Top of the Lake centres on the story of 12-year-old Tui, daughter of the local drug lord in the fictional NZ frontier town of Laketop. After it’s discovered that she’s five months pregnant, she disappears off the face of the earth. Detective Robin Griffin returns home to the small town she left years ago to investigate who, among the strange cast of characters that inhabit Laketop, might be responsible.

Length 6x60, 7x50 mins
Writers Jane Campion, Gerard Lee
Directors Jane Campion, Garth Davis
DoP Adam Arkapaw
Editors Alexandre de Franceschi, Scott Gray
Composer Mark Bradshaw
Line producer Trishia Downie
Production company See Saw Films
Exec producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning (See-Saw) Lucy Richer (BBC)
Producer Philippa Campbell
Funders BBC2, UKTV (Australia/NZ), Sundance Channel, Screen Australia, Screen NSW and Fulcrum Media Finance, BBC Worldwide

Posted 10 July 2013 by Jon Creamer
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