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Factual producers go on a big adventure

Several recent shows hint at a fresh direction for factual entertainment and features. But can they deliver the next big turn of the wheel for the genre?

Authenticity. If there is one buzzword doing the rounds among TV producers when describing the key characteristics of successful new factual shows, this is the one.

The Island, Walking the Nile, Eat Well for Less and Our Guy in India are all cited as some of the most talked about new programmes in the genre – ones that may hint at new directions just as rig shows like Gogglebox or Educating Yorkshire did a few years ago.

In each case, the premise of the show is relatively simple, but very well executed. Any formatting is worn lightly, with very little producer intervention to raise the stakes.

“The one word that sticks out at the moment is authenticity,” says Andrew Mackenzie, chief creative officer at Twofour Group (Educating the East End, The Jump). “The things that aren’t working are when TV producers stick their oar in to make a horrible format.”

The premise of The Island, for example, was simple. Bear Grylls drops 13 men on a remote, uninhabited Pacific island for a month to see if they can survive. Beyond this clever top line, it was almost formless underneath – allowed to play out like a very real experiment. For much of the time, very little happened. To viewers, it felt real and authentic.

Our Guy in India and Walking the Nile, meanwhile, were almost like detective stories. Passionate, expert talent, in the form Guy Martin and Levinson Wood, explored India or the Nile naturally, in depth and in their own time on camera. They experienced and learnt from their environment, and conveyed this to the viewers. 

Over 2m tuned in to watch Walking the Nile – a remarkable feat for a factual series about a man walking through large, empty swathes of the Sudan. “It felt very real, sweaty, dirty, thirsty and horrible,” says Patrick Holland md of Boundless (The Apprentice, Grand Designs), rather than a “rubbishy con where everything was over-egged all the time.”

Holland says audiences want to watch original, authentic experiences – rather than tightly formatted, ‘fish out of water’ shows that claim to transform participants’ lives in a cursory week long shoot. 

Viewers want more than formatted TV’s obvious narrative arcs, transformations and resolutions. “The audience has got wise to the empty lies of transformation,” he says. 

Boundless recently made BBC3’s World’s Toughest Jobs, which followed hard-up young Brits find well paid employment in some of the world’s hardest jobs. Each episode was filmed over a month, and the experiences of the participants could – financially at least – have a tangible impact on their lives. The format, says Holland, was merely a framework from which to follow their story in an ob doc style. “Absolutely central to it is that these are real jobs, they get paid real money. The audience doesn’t just think it is a bit of telly putting people over predictable hurdles.”

“The push for authenticity is the key driver at the moment,” confirms Jess Fowle, creative director at True North (Building the Dream, Animal SOS). However, she adds that ‘format’ isn’t quite the dirty word that it was a few years ago. But it has to be worn lightly and sit around the outside of the show, while everything within feels real and unmediated. 

Viewers, she says, want to be immersed in the subject rather than the rules of the format. “People don’t want to be watching a show and thinking, ‘Now we’re coming up for the ad break so this is where X has to happen’. They want to watch for brilliant characters rather than the rules of the game. People don’t want to be told what to do.”

This ties in to another key trend in factual TV, says Fowle – the move away from the expert telling people what to do. It’s no longer enough for presenters to be filmed walking up someone’s garden path, knocking on their door and to start wagging their finger.

“There’s less talk about know-it-all TV,” confirms Neil Smith, creative director at Betty (Bear Grylls: Mission Survive, The Undateables). He says there is still a demand for experts to front shows, but the experts have to go on a journey – and to extend their own knowledge through their experiences. 

The popularity of Guy Martin’s shows is a perfect example of this, says Smith. “Expertise is still very important. But we want our experts to stop telling us what to do. We want to learn something with them.”

Presenter and producer Henry Cole (The Motorbike Show, World’s Greatest Motorbike Rides) of HCA Productions in many ways sums up this trend for the expert to go on an authentic journey. 

Cole, who also runs a business making custom-made British motorbikes in Oxfordshire, has journeyed around the world for his Travel Channel series The World’s Greatest Motorbike Rides. 

Cole says audience demand for authenticity means that presenters really have to be seen to be living the experience, often at considerable risk to themselves. “An element of danger is now an imperative,” he says. 

Presenters, he adds, need to be authentic too.

Cole says audiences have to believe that a person presenting a show “is living that life and would do what he does whether the camera is on or not. There is no point in having a TV presenter who is just a TV presenter.” 

HCA is currently producing Shed and Buried for ITV4 and Travel Channel, which sees Cole and specialist helper Sam Lovegrove scour the nations sheds to find, buy, restore and sell on old cars and bikes. Tellingly, Cole is risking his own money, rather than any production budget, to trade the cars and bikes – proving very directly that the demand for authenticity now extends to financial as well as physical input too.

Shed and Buried is one of a host of new shows coming to air that are aimed at a male-skewing audience. “There is a new audience being understood by broadcasters – the intelligent male audience,” says Cole.

Indeed, there is a sense that broadcasters are waking up to the potential of appealing to a broader male audience, which in the past might have been marginalized by traditionally female-skewing factual features shows.

Adventure shows, for example, suddenly seem to be all the rage. ITV, hit by the loss of European football rights, has been making a big push to hold on to its male audience with shows like Bear Grylls: Mission Survive. C4’s The Island and Walking the Nile are both, essentially, adventure stories. 

It all goes back, says Boundless Patrick Holland, to that buzzword authenticity. “One of the reasons adventure works is because it has a rawness to it – it takes you to a place which is less filtered.”

There are other trends apparent in factual television, two of which have come together in BBC1 hit Eat Well for Less. With audiences of over 5m, it’s another of those shows that people working in factual TV are talking about.

“It’s a Ronseal title,” says Tim Harcourt, creative director at Studio Lambert (Gogglebox, Undercover Boss). “And it has caught on to two zeitgeists – how to live your life and be healthy, and how to save money.“ A well made, straight down the line features show, Harcourt says it proves that “if you have a simple idea and you execute it really well, viewers will watch it.”

Studio Lambert is, of course, the home of 2013 sleeper factual hit Gogglebox. Harcourt says the company is focusing its development attention on formats and factual shows that have “more of an entertainment sensibility.” He argues the success of shows like The X Factor lies in the fact that they are entertainment and factual hybrids. Their back stories are a classic example of “amazing British documentary storytelling being stuck on to an entertainment format.”

“Now I think how can we make documentary and factual entertainment shows have a bit of an entertainment sensibility. Not just in terms of laughs and the beats, but how they are produced and how they look.”

Harcourt cites Studio Lambert’s new series Tattoo Fixers for E4, a doc in which three leading tattoo artists offer their own ideas to help fix tattoo disasters. Clients decide which artist to use, and there is a big reveal at the end of the show. “There are entertainment or factual entertainment beats on a show that to all intents and purposes looks like a great documentary,” says Harcourt.

Certainly, there is a feeling that the mainstream broadcasters need to discover the next big thing as competition from multichannel and video on demand players increases. “It’s a massive challenge for producers and broadcasters to deliver the next turn of the wheel. The last one was the rig show,” says Twofour’s Andrew Mackenzie. “Something will come in the next twelve months that will do it – it is desperately needed.”

Posted 17 March 2015 by Tim Dams

Tracking down the best tunes

Want some musical inspiration for your next show? Televisual asked production music libraries to suggest track ideas for seven hypothetical programme ideas.

It’s never easy choosing the right music for a production. Music is so subjective that programme makers can seriously disagree about the right choice – a director may love a track, while the editor may not.

One thing is certain though. With budgets under pressure, cost effective production music is becoming increasingly important. But where to get the right track from? In this article, we’ve sought to showcase some of the places you can turn to. We have come up with seven hypothetical programme ideas - across docs, formats, drama, commercials and corporate.

We put these (fictional) programme ideas to production music libraries so they could suggest which of their tracks might work best – and to explain the reason for each choice. We’ve not published costs of the music as some broadcasters will cover music in their blanket agreement. Otherwise, many companies will follow the PRS rate card.

Click on the track links to hear the music in full.

Primetime documentary series
This brand new rig show is set in a London fire station. With cameras placed all around the station, it reveals the challenges and realities of life as a fireman in 2015.

Reliable Source Music
Music suggested: Traction (Album Style Rebels)
Why suitable “A catchy pop-rock track with a great intro that then builds with a slightly aggressive feel evoking the feeling of urgency. It even features a distant sounding siren, but not in an obvious cheesy in your face way!”

Addictive Tracks
Music suggested Hunters B
Why suitable “This is a fast and hard beat to reflect a job that is equally so. The driving rhythm creates a sense of energy and urgency whilst the urban feel evokes the imposing atmosphere of the big city.”

JW Media Music
Music suggested The Last Echo from album SW011 Minima in Switch library
Why suitable “This track adds great punctuation to the drama of being a fire fighter. A very simple repeated figure, this track would work in the same vein as the punctuation motif used in the hit C4 doc Royal Marines Commando School. Not overpowering, very thoughtful and reflective of the drama and risks involved.”

Travel/history series
An acclaimed historian travels to the battlefields of the Napoleonic War, using state of the art digital technology to recreate the key battles of the conflict.

Addictive Tracks
Music suggested Srebrenica B
Why suitable “Picture the scene of two grand armies approaching each other through the morning mist whilst a groan of ominous strings is heard overhead.  This track transcends effortlessly through classical and modern, tying together the historical and technological elements of the piece.”

De Wolfe Music
Music suggested Ice Flow 3 Julian Scott
Why suitable “While I would want to choose music to reflect the scenes of war, it can’t be too overpowering. You want to be able to hear and understand the history as told by the experts, so let’s not steal their thunder with over-the-top music. This track is subtle, poignant and understated, yet the morbid bass drum effectively reflects war or a battle aftermath of some kind.”

Dynamic Music
Music suggested Chasewerk
Why suitable “Its driving beat creates an atmosphere of urgency leading into battle. The tune employs a strong string section which can be seen as sensitive to the Napoleonic period where Beethoven was composing his large symphonies.”

Antiques daytime
Expert presenters scour the nation’s attics, sheds and garages for forgotten antiques and then help their owners to get the best possible price at auction.

Music suggested A Sneaking Feeling (Vincent Webb SYNC_5106), Paper Planes (Vincent Webb SYNC_5112)
Why suitable “Using something light, sneaky and playful creates the feeling of excitement and curiosity for what may be discovered. The quirky nature of the music also lends itself to the mix of objects often found on these shows. A mix of tuned percussion and pizzicato strings.”
Music suggested Happy Song (BNB056 # 031); Make or Break (INSD005#5); Dreamers (LQC026 #037)
Why suitable “All are musical beds made for TV to allow for storytelling voiceover. The music reflects the scenes. 1. Finding old treasures, optimistic about making some money. 2. Auction – tension, will it sell, will we get a good price? 3. Euphoric (hopefully) at going home with cash!”

9 Lives Music
Music suggested Auction Time and Curious Cat (NLM070 Wonderful & Eccentric)
Why suitable “Music from this album was produced for daytime TV, light entertainment programmes. The tracks are quirky and curious comedy featuring a lot of pizzicato, edging onto the dramedy category. The music is a little eccentric like many of the presenters!”

This cheeky, irreverent ad for a new price comparison site seeks to introduce the service to the UK public.

EMI Production Music
Music suggested Chicken Wax Supreme (a)’ (KPM 913)
Why suitable “This cheeky, positive ska groove complements the nature of the commercial perfectly. The fresh, sunny brass bounces consistently throughout without being too overbearing or taking anything away from the primary message. Plus, brass is so hot right now…”

Universal Publishing Production Music
Music suggested Gold Digger from the album Dramedy 2 - The Sequel Label: Hollywood Music
Why suitable “The classic light-hearted ‘dramedy’ style of Gold Digger portrays the irreverent and cheeky feel for the ad. The instrumentation promotes a company image which is friendly and ‘no hassle’ with a slight childlike quality.”

Music suggested Cheeky Pizz
Why suitable “Light and cheeky with a feeling of movement and confidence. This style of music has a very general appeal across all ages. This track would sit well under the voice (male or female).”

Early evening docusoap
Doc series that goes behind the scenes at the UK’s biggest airport to reveal the complexity of getting passengers safely to their destination.

EMI Production Music
Music suggested Busy Bumble (C, KPM 853)
Why suitable “Pizzicato strings may be overused on TV but there is a reason for that. They fit perfectly for driving narration forward and providing the set for busy, bustling scenes. The track immediately picks up the viewer to the pace of the myriad of complex tasks being performed, as well as giving great edit points to follow specific characters and situations.”

JW Media Music
Music suggested Spirit of Light  (SOZ062 Ambient Chill Vol 6), Creation & Flow (Sonic Ozault)
Why suitable “This is a minimal tense underscore with a flow like feel. This would suit because while the premise of the show is busy and a feat of organisational skill, it should feel tense and pressured but not overly dramatic or dangerous. Also, it leaves room for narration which features heavily in these kinds of shows.”

Universal Publishing Production Music
Music suggested Light Tension (underscore version, Essential Drama, Kosinus label)
Why suitable “The UK’s biggest airport has a complex infrastructure where error can occur in every stage. The Light Tension track (underscore version) helps to maintain and build the documentary’s narrative. Also, it has a ‘ticking’ feeling. Timing is a very important element at the airport so ‘ticking’ should make this element even stronger.”

Drama series
A mid-budget, fast-paced crime drama series about a crack UK forensics team who will stop at nothing to solve a case.

Universal Publishing Production Music
Music suggested Mood Pulse (Hard Drama 4, Atmosphere label)
Why suitable “As well as being quite gritty and industrial it also has a beat which pushes it forwards with a bit of pace. The track isn’t too dark so isn’t too overbearing but has the right levels of tension. I could picture this track in a scene where the forensics team is investigating a murder scene or in a lab running tests allowing for continuity through the series.”

De Wolfe Music
Music suggested Unravelling, Edward Cooper
Why suitable “Its exciting, hard hitting drum rhythms keep the tension right up and the listener on edge. The revolving motifs and that relentless spiral of sound in the background create a suspenseful and sinister atmosphere, building up to a really heightened sense of drama and urgency.”

Reliable Source Music
Music suggested Music for Murder (RSM163)
Why suitable “One of our recent releases Music for Murder was made with crime docs/dramas in mind. Mixtures of orchestral strings and electronic elements often work well, our track Black Ops being a good example. The strings help to create an anxious atmosphere and the electronic parts are able to complement subject matter such as forensics to apply or reinforce a modern technological element to scenes.”

Corporate film
This film from a small British manufacturer is designed to introduce its latest product to the marketplace and will be used primarily at trade shows, corporate events and on its website.

Cue Songs
Music suggested The Ramona Flowers, Lust and Lies, Instrumental)
Why suitable “Corporate videos are very easy to get wrong as it’s hard not to make it sound dull without being distracting. You need to be wallpaper, but designer wallpaper rather than Homebase. This track manages to never outstay its welcome without ever dominating. You could listen to someone talk about valves and market shares forever with this as the soundtrack.”

Dynamic Music
Music suggested Waves
Why suitable “This track exudes class. This is for the British brand that wants to portray modernity but also demonstrate that they have employed old techniques. This track would complement a British luxury item. Its sound is on point with the tropical house movement that is sweeping the country still, so it would invoke a familiarity with its listeners.”

Music suggested Getting There (Typical)
Why suitable “This track is cool, emotive, uplifting and exudes a real sense of pride. The music has a very British sound and would enhance a sincere, assured voice-over or presentation. The addition of high strings adds an air of sophistication and pushes the feel-good factor to number 11.”

Posted 16 March 2015 by Tim Dams

Party politics takes centre stage at Create UK event

Political parties laid bare their pre-election policy differences for the media sector at a parliamentary reception for the creative industries yesterday.

Sajid Javid, the Media Secretary, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary and Chris Bryant, the Shadow Minister for the Arts, spoke on behalf of the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour respectively at a Create Industries Council event in the House of Commons.

The event was held to celebrate the achievements of the UK creative industries, which are worth £80bn to the UK economy and employ 1.7m people. Senior figures from across the creative industries attended, including BBC dg Tony Hall, C4 boss David Abraham, Warner Bros UK head Josh Berger and Facebook’s UK Nicola Mendelsohn.

The event also saw the launch of Hiive, a new professional social network for the creative industries, which has been driven by Creative Skillset.

Cable spoke first and began by praising the creative industries for their contribution to the UK economy. He said the creative industries represented 5% of the UK economy, but were growing three times faster than the rest of the economy. “This is an incredible success story,” said Cable.

He added that several key messages had emerged since the launch of Council’s Create UK strategy last summer. “On top of the list is finance, because there are some brilliant companies that cannot raise funding,” said Cable. He said the Business Bank, launched by the Coalition last year, had offered about a quarter of its start up loans to the creative industries. About 2000 creative industries companies had accessed loans or guarantees, Cable added.

Cable also said more work needed to be done to boost apprenticeships, protect IP and to boost exports.

He added that the Liberal Democrats would also prevent Channel 4 from being privatised. “What I and my party are committed to is making sure that Channel 4 isn’t offloaded to the private sector.”

Proposals to privatise C4 were reportedly drawn up last year by the Conservative-led departments in the Coalition, including the Treasury and DCMS, amid suggestions that it could raise over £1bn.

Labour’s Chris Bryant followed Cable to the platform, also pledging to “keep Channel 4 in public hands and not to sell it off”.

He added that Labour would back a “strong” BBC. “The single biggest investment that the government makes in the creative industries in this country is the licence fee. That is why Labour will keep the licence fee and the BBC strong.”

Bryant also praised the creative industries, noting that they accounted for 1 in 12 UK jobs and were the only sector in the economy to grow by 4% year on year. “That means creativity is not an optional add on to the British economy – it is the bedrock of our success.”

As a result, Bryant said that arts education at school should be at the heart of the UK’s economic strategy. “So let’s put a stop to dissing artistic education in schools…let’s say that Ofsted will only be able to call a school outstanding if it is outstanding at arts and cultural opportunities for every single child.”

Bryant also said the creative industries faced significant challenges. He called for more apprenticeships that were “not just about unpaid internships” and for the industry to embrace diversity. “It’s a sad reflection on the media that in the last five years the numbers of people from BAME communities working in the media has fallen not risen. That is a shocking indictment of the industry and we need to change that.”

Media Secretary Sajid Javid was the last to speak, and again he talked up the creative industries, pointing out that the sector is growing three times faster than the rest of the economy.

He picked out two reasons for the UK’s success in this area. The first reason, he said, was “the immense creative talent that exists in our country.” Citing success at the Oscars, Brits and Baftas and contributions from publishing, architecture, advertising and design, he added, “it is fair to say we have the most creative people on earth in our country.”

Secondly, Javid picked out the government’s support for the creative industries, in particular the boost from tax credits for sectors such as film, TV drama, animation, kids TV and theatres. “If you look at the transformation of the movie industry, just last year was a record year of investment - £1.5bn went into the industry in the UK.”

Javid also cited the government’s £1.7bn investment in broadband and its role in IP protection as two other key pillars of support.

Tellingly, however, he failed to mention whether the Conservatives were for or against the privatisation of Channel 4.

Photo credit: Pete Sherrard Photography.

Posted 10 March 2015 by Tim Dams

Behind the scenes: ITV's Arthur & George

Julian Barnes’ literary hit Arthur & George has been radically rethought for its ITV adaptation.
“I thought it was un-adaptable,” says Julian Barnes, the author of the acclaimed novel Arthur & George, which forms the basis of a new three-part series for ITV, starring Martin Clunes.

Arthur & George is based on true events in the life of Sherlock Holmes, creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in which he pursues a notorious miscarriage of justice.

Set in 1906, it follows Conan Doyle and his secretary Alfred ‘Woodie’ Wood as they investigate the case of George Edalji, a young Anglo-Indian solicitor who was imprisoned for allegedly mutilating animals and writing obscene letters.

Barnes, who won the Man Booker prize for his book The Sense of an Ending, thinks Arthur & George has a fictional structure that “couldn’t possibly hold together over three episodes.”

So it comes as little surprise to find that ITV’s adaptation is substantially different from the book. The original novel focused heavily on the early lives of the protagonists and spends alternative chapters with Arthur and George before their stories finally intertwine far into the novel. There are also long passages devoted to Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism.

At a press screening last month, the talk centred on how the producers had successfully managed to adapt a highbrow book – whose most obvious home might be BBC2 - for commercial broadcaster ITV’s broad audience.

It’s also an adaptation that Barnes approves of. He sounds relaxed about the changes, noting that TV is a different art form from the novel. Narratives have to be rationalised to fit the visual medium of TV, he says. ITV director of drama Steve Novemberdescribes the series as “a complex, character-driven mystery treat” – which “proves the BBC doesn’t have a monopoly on proper books”.

Producer Philippa Braithwaite read the book soon after it was published in 2005. But it took her several years to option, and when she finally succeeded she took it straight to ITV – because it is the home of Doc Martin, which she produces with her husband Martin Clunes through their indie Buffalo Pictures. She contacted script writer Ed Whitmore (Silent Witness, Waking the Dead), who she thought would suit the project because of his crime writing background.

“Firstly we did quite a literal adaptation of the book. We followed the line of the book and we did a George and an Arthur.” But ITV felt it didn’t work –it wasn’t visual or exciting enough.

Says Whitmore: “So we went back to the drawing board.” He then concentrated on events in the latter part of the book when Arthur and George come together, and Arthur takes up George’s case and decides he is going to try to clear his name. Arthur’s secretary Alfred Wood is also given a prominent role as his investigating sidekick – bringing a buddy movie element to the script. “They are a fun pair and almost comic – they are two guys you want to hang out with,” says Whitmore.

Whitmore also begins the story shortly after the death of Conan Doyle’s first wife, when Doyle is wracked with guilt for having had a mistress during her illness and feels unable to write another Sherlock Holmes story. “Once we decided we would take a more radical, re-conceptualising approach to the book, that felt like the jumping off point. Here’s this man who is paralysed by all these things in his personal life who takes up this case, this challenge.”

When Arthur & George was finally commissioned, Braithwaite put the script in front of Clunes. “A few people have asked me if it was written as a vehicle for Martin. It wasn’t. The part existed through the book and it’s a real person, but it was great that he wanted to do it.” Still, Clunes admits to feeling nervous about taking on the role, and particularly about putting on a Scottish accent.  “If it hadn’t been my own wife doing it, I would have probably done a runner. But I didn’t want to lose face,” he says.

Braithwaite tapped into the drama tax credit and gap financing to bolster the ITV budget. “The tax credit helped enormously,” she says. “We couldn’t have done with out it.”

Indeed, the series makes use of extensive locations – including Trafalgar Square, Somerset House and St Pancras in London and the Black Country Museum in the West Midlands – which are all rendered in period style to lend a sense of place and atmosphere from the early 1900s.

Director Stuart Orme (Foyle’s War), oversaw the eight-week shoot. Shooting on the Arri Alexa, he has used the camera’s ability to shoot in low light to play up the sense of light and shade in the drama. Even though Arthur & George is essentially a dark story, Orme says it was “clear we needed lighter moments – and a lightness of touch”.

Braithwaite says if Arthur & George is successful she’d like to bring more of their stories to the screen. “The one thing I hadn’t really realised was how much it was going to become about Arthur and Woodie. The chemistry of those two has really worked.”

Cast Martin Clunes, Arsher Ali, Art Malik, Emma Fielding, Charles Edwards, Hattie Morahan, Sandra Voe
Production company Buffalo Pictures
ITV commissioners Steve November, Victoria Fea
Producers Philippa Braithwaite, Trevor Hopkins
Writer Ed Whitmore
Director Stuart Orme
Associate producer Sandy Poustie
DoP Suzie Lavelle
Production designer Anthony Ainsworth
Location manager Clive Miles
Editor David Yardley
Production co-ordinator Jools Woodcock
VFX producer Louise Hussey, Double Negative
Camera  Arri Alexa
Post production Encore

Posted 02 March 2015 by Tim Dams

The making of Natural World: Africa's Fishing Leopards

Ahead of its broadcast tonight, here’s a Q&A with the makers of Natural World documentary Africa’s Fishing Leopards.

David Attenborough narrates the story of a leopard mother and her two cubs, who must survive in the wilds of Botswana alongside some less-than-friendly neighbours: lions, wild dogs and hyenas. The competition for food is tough, and if they are going to make it they must learn a new skill - they must learn to fish.

Local cameraman Brad Bestelink filmed their story over 18-month, offering a rare glimpse into an otherwise hidden world. The show was executive produced by Harry Marshall and Laura Marshall of Icon Films.

What is the background to the commission?

Harry Marshall: We met Brad Bestelink while we were filming an episode of River Monsters and he told us about this extraordinary behaviour he had witnessed, while filming in the ephemeral wetlands of Savute, Botswana. Together we worked it into a pitch for the perfect  1 x 60 minute special.

How did you get it green lit / financed?

HM: We took the story to BBC’s The Natural World, who knew and admired Brad’s filmmaking talents and understood the unique quality of the story.  They were looking for a single species behaviour show for the next run of TNW. We needed a US production partner and Janet Vissering at NG Wild was looking for a Special for their Big Cat Week.  Once she had seen the tease we had cut it was a no brainer and we had our commission.

Who was on the production team with you for this and why?

HM: Brad Bestelink and Richard Uren were behind the camera in Botswana, both of whom know Savute intimately. Rupert Troskie, award winning wildlife editor crafted the images,  William Goodchild, the composer, gave the score the kind of twist that natural history music needs to take it beyond the cliché, and Steve Gooder collaborated with Brad in shaping the story and writing the script

Why did you go down the 4K route?  

Brad Bestelink: Natural history content will always increase in value, the only thing that would limit this would be the format it is shot on. Realising this, just over three years ago we switched out completely and went not only to 4K and 5K, we went in shooting at compression rates that equal cinema release deliverables to ensure that the material has legs into the future. We went 4K solely to future proof our content and programs.

What kind of kit did you use to shoot the film? 
BB: We exclusively use RED Epics and Dragons, on drones and for IR. For us, if it’s not between 4K and 6K with high compression rates, it is of little value to us. I prefer the old cinema styled lenses for that more natural feel (especially when you have so much resolution, they stops it looking electronic). The most important piece of kit me on this film was having an infrared converted Epic.

What were the key challenges you encountered during the shoot?

Finding the leopards, keeping up with the leopards and then getting them to trust us rather than try to lose us.

How did you manage to film the cat fishing sequences? 

BB: Many long evenings sneaking around, using infrared, when we were literally in the dark with it.

How did the film develop in post?  

BB: Assemblies started on location, then at Films 59. Developing the relationship in the film between crew and the leopards was one of the hardest aspects of the post process. As we went on, we pulled as far back on the human element as we could to keep it a blue chip natural history about leopards. This human element of the story was solely about gaining insight into an aspect of their emotional / private lives, and the writing and interpretation of this by Steve Gooder was superb. Subtleties were key... Less was really more and he really justified making it an integral part of the film.

What do you know now that you wish you had known before you started filming? 

BB: I would like to have known more about infrared prior to the fishing actually starting. We stumbled around in the dark with infrared lights and cameras and feel that if we had known all better how to use the gear we could have got more out of it rather than just the fishing component. It was only once the night fishing had started that we made the decision to get infrared, so it was a little like figuring it out as we went along.

What advice would you give to the many people who want to be wildlife film-makers like yourself?
Let behaviour drive all stories. See it - don’t say it. If you cannot say with pictures first, don’t say it at all

Africa’s Fishing Leopards; Natural World

TX: Feb 24th 2015, 8pm on BBC Two
Produced by Icon Films in association with Natural History Unit Botswana for BBC and National Geographic WILD US
Narrated by David Attenborough
Produced and directed by Brad Bestelink and Steve Gooder
Photography Brad Bestelink and Richard Uren
Editing  Rupert Troskie
Music composed by William Goodchild and Dan Brown
Executive producers for Icon Films Harry Marshall and Laura Marshall

Posted 24 February 2015 by Tim Dams

Taking the 4K production route

Given all the talk about 4K, should you shoot your next production in the format? Programme makers who have gone down the 4K route give their advice

4K offers startlingly clear, high-resolution images, and is slowly but surely growing in popularity amongst the production community.

It’s still a minority pursuit for most in television production, however, as so few broadcasters have the capacity to broadcast in 4K.

Traditional broadcasters like the BBC have experimented with 4K broadcasts during big sporting events, but lack the infrastructure to deliver full data heavy 4K programming. 

Sky has trialled a number of 4K productions, and recently shot the Ryder Cup in 4K as part of an on-going trial.

But for now, most 4K content has to be streamed via broadband – from online outfits such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.

All this means that very little content is being commissioned in 4K in the UK.

Given that many consumers are still watching SD content on their TVs, let alone HD, it’s likely to be a long time yet before 4K goes mainstream.

Future proofing your archive

So why is anybody shooting in 4K? Future proofing their archive is one of the key reasons that programme makers cite when asked why they are shooting in 4K. 

“Technology changes so fast you want to future proof what you are doing, and obviously you want to be acquiring in the highest res possible,” says Brad Bestelink, producer, director and cinematographer at Natural History Film Unit Botswana / Icon Films.

“The idea is that in five years time when we want to rerun one of our films, and the channels and technology have caught up and they want to deliver in 4K, we can go back to the source of that project and can regenerate the entire project in 4K.”

Indeed, very few programme makers who have filmed in 4K have ever delivered a final master to a broadcaster in 4K. Instead their material is down-converted to HD. “We do all our acquisition in 4K but have never actually delivered in 4K,” confirms Bestelink, who recently made two Natural World programmes in 4K for the BBC2 strand: Africa’s Giant Killers and Fishing Leopards.

The best genres to shoot in 4K
Given the extra costs and technical challenges of shooting in 4K (of which more below), experts say that only very few kinds of TV shows are worth filming in 4K for now.

The strongest uptake has been for projects which can expect to have a long shelf life and are looking for superior picture quality, such as TV drama, films, natural history and music programming. Sport is also experimenting with 4K. Many commercials, given their short form nature, relatively high budgets and the possibility of a cinema run, are also shot in 4K now. Many high-end corporate projects are also opting to shoot in 4K.

However, 4K isn’t necessarily the best option for projects that generate lots of rushes, such as reality, documentary series and entertainment – the mainstays of much of TV production. Because 4K records at a higher resolution than HD, it will produce more data. This, of course, means more overhead in terms of storage, management and download times. 

Typically, a 4K camera will produce about 225-650 gigabytes of data an hour, or up to nearly a terabyte an hour in the case of 4K Raw on some cameras. The price of storage is falling year on year, so it is possible to work with this amount of data on location with plenty of drives, as well as a good MacBook Pro or an iMac with Thunderbolt and Raid storage. Even so, this adds to the cost and complexity of production and post production.

For someone used to shooting a reality show with lots of PDs shooting on multiple cameras, 4K “is probably going to be a mountain to climb”, says Richard Mills, chief technology officer at Onsight, which has worked on 4K projects including Conquest of the Skies for Sky and The Queen’s Garden for ITV.

He says producers need to think very carefully before embarking on 4K, asking “will it slow my production down or will it provide a genuine advantage?”

Karen Meehan, head of production at indie Off the Fence, says producers have to factor in hiring a digital imaging technician (DIT) on location to manage the sheer quantity of media that 4K shooting throws up. She adds that an AP could be trained to do this role. But this could impact on the welfare of the crew on a shoot. “You have got to bear in mind that if you are shooting all day, then someone may have to spend all night making sure everything is properly backed up.”

Choosing the right camera

Programme makers also have to carefully weigh up the choice of camera, and be sure that it can perform adequately for what they want to achieve. Is the camera reliable and easy to use or is it a prototype and untried? When shooting, will it be possible to see the picture on a 4K monitor? 

Mills says it is important to have someone on set who is familiar with the pitfalls of a particular camera. “They all have them. All the manufacturers keep on changing the menu structures, changing the firmware, adding improvements. So you have got to make sure everyone is up to speed.”

Concerns about 4K shooting have to be put in perspective though. In reality, there is little that is essentially different from HD shooting, says Bestelink.  “It’s just like if you move from, say, a Varicam to a Sony to something else. You learn the quirks and ups and downs of each rig. It’s not rocket science.”

In terms of 4K or above cameras, the Red Epic and Red Dragon as well as the Sony F55 are popular at the high-end. More affordable cameras like the Sony FS7, the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K and Ursa, as well as the AJA Cion are making headway.  Popular 4K DSLRs include the Sony A7S and Panasonic GH4. 4K cameras are becoming increasingly affordable, says Ian Bradshaw, technical director at Title Role Productions. “Now you can buy a 4K camera (body only) for between £5-10k. Sony’s FS7 has caused a stir in the industry, as has the Blackmagic Ursa with very affordable pricing.”

However, 4K experts stress that it is vital to test them – and test again – before embarking on a 4K shoot. A bit like the shift from SD to HD, 4K can be unforgiving to first time users. Says Mills: “Focusing has got to be accurate, because if you are a bit out of focus you will notice it on a 4K screen. So have the best tools around in terms of being able to monitor it. Monitor in 4K or at least have ability to zoom the picture so you can see critical focus.”

4K can also look very sharp; viewers say it can be too digital and over realistic. DoPs, as a result, are choosing their lenses very carefully – both to provide resolution but also to take the perceived harshness off the pictures.

Cooke and vintage lenses are proving very popular with 4K filmmakers for this reason, helping to provide a softer, less clinical look to shots. 

Testing through to post production

Perhaps the key consideration when shooting 4K for the first time, though, is to run a test through to post production. “It’s important to check that what you are intending to do will pass through the system and come out with the results you want,” says Mills.

Producers have to ensure that their post house can handle 4K, and that they will not be charged huge amounts for data storage in the facility. 

To avoid potentially expensive 4K storage costs and to speed up editing times, the majority of 4K productions down-res to HD for their offline. However, final post production for a programme set to be broadcast in 4K has to done in 4K. Just before final post, the proxy file will be conformed back to full 4K. It means a facility needs to have adequate 4K monitoring. Grading and any correction work, reframing or compositing has to be done in 4K to ensure the picture quality is not eroded.

Once again, it’s important to stress that post should be pretty straightforward. “It is incredibly simple to do 4K in post now,” says Richard Moss, md of Cardiff post house Gorilla and who sits on Creative Skillset’s TV Council.

Moss adds that post houses should only charge a slight uplift for working in 4K, with most of the excess due to the ingest process and long term storage of material. 

At a time of ever tightening budgets, this shouldn’t be overlooked – particularly as a 4K production will already add to the bottom line in terms of more expensive cameras, on location storage and data management.

This goes back to the initial point raised by many 4K programme makers: given the extra costs and time involved, it’s worth being completely sure that your show needs to be filmed in 4K when so few broadcasters are playing out the format. 

Televisual is the media sponsor of the 4K theatre at this month’s Broadcast Video Expo (BVE), staging sessions each day on 4K production. Come and see us there (24-26 February).

Posted 19 February 2015 by Tim Dams

The making of C4's £16m saga Indian Summers

Conceived as a 50-part epic, there is a lot riding on the first series of C4’s Indian Summers.

ITV’s acclaimed The Jewel in Crown, David Lean’s A Passage to India and Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi have, between them, set a high bar for onscreen sagas about the final throws of the British Empire in India. But it is now over thirty years since they premiered, which could play into the hands of Channel 4’s upcoming Indian Summers.

The ten-part series is set in 1932 in the hill station of Simla, where the power brokers of the British Raj gather each summer to escape the heat of the plains. Starring Julie Walters, it’s a colourful, multi-character epic that tells its story from both sides of the experience – British and Indian – while serving up a diet of intrigue, politics, murder and love.

It’s an unusual commission for C4, which usually focuses on contemporary, shorter run drama. Indian Summers will play on Sunday evenings, and is conceived to be “unmistakeably entertaining” and “relaxing viewing”, says C4 deputy head of drama Beth Willis.

But, she insists it is a very C4 kind of project: “It gets very dark and there is a lot of grit and politics that is slid under the door while you are enjoying the characters’ world, their relationships and the sun. By the end of ten hours you have been on quite an epic political journey as well as a wonderful saga.”

The series is produced through New Pictures, set up by former Company Pictures boss Charlie Pattinson (Skins, Shameless). The project was brought to him by writer Paul Rutman (Vera) and director Simon Curtis as a two page treatment. It outlined a five series drama that would ultimately span 50 episodes until Indian Independence in 1947.

“I was completely smitten by it, instantly,” says Pattinson, who commissioned and paid for a script himself, as he was between companies. He sees Indian Summers as building on the demand for novel-like television dramas that unfold over multiple series, like The Wire or Mad Men. “It felt quite modern, in a way,” he says.

All3Media International boarded as distributor and Masterpiece for PBS, helping to raise the budget to £16m. From the start, the ambition was to shoot entirely on location, to give a greater sense of authenticity. But this proved to be a huge challenge. Pattinson travelled to Simla but couldn’t work out how to film there. “There are no vistas without modern buildings and towers,” he says. After a long recce, which took in other Indian locations and Sri Lanka, he chose Penang in Malaysia as the base for the drama.

The country shares a similar colonial history, with many British era buildings, but the area surrounding Penang is less developed. Indeed, a major challenge was to reclaim buildings overgrown by vegetation. One of the key locations in the series is the British club. “When I first went there, I had to hack through the jungle to get to it – it had been unoccupied for 30 years. The same with Ralph Whelan’s (private secretary to the Viceroy of India) house – it had virtually been devoured by scrub,” says Pattinson.

Unusually, the entire production – which ran from May–October 2014 with a crew of roughly 150 British and Malaysians – was filmed entirely on location. Says Willis, “We all assumed that we would do some stuff there and then come back to the UK to do interiors. But they pulled it off not doing that, and I think it shows. It is so wonderful when you see characters walking through the garden, through a house upstairs, and you follow them looking out of the window and it is the same garden. It is so rare in period dramas these days that you get that, that you don’t feel that you are in studio set – it makes it incredibly cinematic as a result.”

Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie, Red Riding) was hired to direct the first four episodes.  “I knew his work has a visual elegance, and knew from Hilary and Jackie that he is capable of getting performances, and that he had an emotional connection with this material and a bit of history – his father was Indian – and I felt that was important,” explains Pattinson.

Despite a top production team, casting was tricky. “Our cast is largely in their late 20s and early 30s. That is very hard age range to cast as so many of our actors head to Los Angeles in that age range, so we started casting very early. Also, it’s a big ask for people to relocate to Penang for six months –  and possibly for five years.”  Of course, whether it is a five year, 50 episode haul depends largely on how audiences respond to the first series of Indian Summers when it begins this weekend.

Julie Walters, Henry Lloyd Hughes, Patrick Malahide, Jemima West, Nikesh Patel, Lillette Dubey, Roshan Set and Ayesha Kala
Executive producers
Charlie Pattinson, Elaine Pyke, Simon Curtis
Writer/exec producer
Paul Rutman
C4 commissioners
Piers Wenger, Beth Willis
Dan McCulloch
Anand Tucker, Jamie Payne, David Moore
Line Producer
Christine Healy
Production designers
Rob Harris, Andrew Purcell
David Higgs, Peter Robertson
Costume designer
Nic Ede
Beverley Mills, St John O’Rourke, Ellen Pierce
Red Epic at 4K
Post production
The Farm

Posted 13 February 2015 by Tim Dams

Football the winner as indies and viewers await impact

£11m per match. That’s how much Sky is paying for the rights to broadcast each of the 126 games under its new deal with the Premier League.

For the cost of just 90 minutes of football, Sky could produce plenty of dramas, comedy, entertainment and factual shows.

At current tariff levels, £10m would comfortably pay for eight hours or more of a high quality drama series - to which Sky would retain a significant portion of the rights to exploit in international markets.

Many analysts and the market think that Sky has overpaid. Sky’s share price fell by 5% this morning, the biggest faller in the FTSE 100, as the market digested the £4.176bn it is paying over three years, an 83% increase over the cost of the existing contract.

BT’s shares, by contrast, were up by more than 4pc in early trading on Wednesday. It will pay a total of £960m compared to £738m for two packages, which is £7.6m on a per game basis.

Sky, of course, was in a difficult negotiating spot – and they have won a painful victory for the rights. Premiership football is still the main driver for pay-TV subscriptions. 60% of subscribers say they would consider to switching to a rival if it won the bulk of the rights, according to a recent of Ofcom report – way above any other sport or genre.

Sky admitted that the annual cost of the Premier League rights would be around £330 million more than analysts’ forecasts.

The broadcaster admitted that the increased outlay on football means that it will have to make “substantial additional savings to be delivered by efficiency plans.”

Sky chief executive Jeremy Darroch says that the broadcaster has “a clear plan to absorb the cost of the new Premier League deal while delivering our financial plans.”

The price rise has already raised speculation that the broadcaster will have to pass on the increased costs to their customers by charging more.

Ian Whittaker, an analyst at Liberum, told The Financial Times that if Sky passed the whole increase in rights costs on to consumers, rather than make cuts, bills would increase by more than 10 per cent.

Savings might also be found by cutting expenditure on original programming, which could have a significant impact on the UK production community.

Sky is now a major investor in UK content. It recently spent £25m on high-end drama Fortitude as part of its plan to broaden its offering to consumers, and to compete with OTT players like Netflix and Amazon.

But after the new Premier League deal it’s reasonable to expect that Sky won’t be commissioning quite so many of these kinds of shows in coming years.

Footballers rather than indie producers are the winners this week.

Posted 11 February 2015 by Tim Dams
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