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The making of The Eichmann Show

The 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann – one of the key architects of the Holocaust – was the world’s first global TV event.

A prominent Nazi, Eichmann had been in charge of transporting millions of European Jews to death camps. He fled to Argentina after the War, evading justice until he was abducted by Israeli agents. He was put on trial in Jerusalem, with proceedings filmed for a global audience.

Described as the “trial of the century”, it was filmed live over four months by a crew led by American producer Milton Fruchtman and director Leo Hurwitz. In a hugely complex operation, the footage was then distributed daily to 37 countries, including the US, UK and Germany, where it was broadcast in prime time, often just the day after proceedings.

It was a seminal moment in the world’s understanding of the Holocaust. For many people, it was the first time the horror of the death camps had been heard live, directly from its victims. It’s said that 80% of the German population watched at least one hour a week.

The story behind the filming of the trial is now the subject of a single drama on BBC2, starring Martin Freeman and Anthony LaPaglia.

Feelgood Fiction producer Lawrence Bowen stumbled across the idea for the drama while looking into the Eichmann trial, and came across a thread about Fruchtman. “I thought that’s interesting, partly because I am a producer myself. When you see famous trials of the past, you don’t think about someone operating the equipment, you think about the trial.”

As an entrepreneurial young producer in his early 30s, Fruchtman had read about the capture of Eichmann and flew to Israel to pitch the idea of filming the trial to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. He won the contract, ahead of more famous networks, and then hired director Hurwitz – who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era in the US.

Bowen followed the story further, looking at the archive itself from the trial. “As I started watching it, two things made me think we have got a film here,” says Bowen. Firstly, Eichmann was, he says, like the Bin Laden of post-war Europe. “When he was found, it was a huge event for the world. Add to that the enigma of Eichmann. He sat in a [bullet proof] glass box during the trial, and played the ‘I was just following orders’ card.” Secondly, the witness testimony was hugely affecting. Prosecutors chose just over 100 of the best witnesses they could find to tell the story of Holocaust.

The black and white archive from the trial plays a prominent role in the BBC2 film. But the film breathes new life into the archive by taking the point of view of the producer and director in their control room, all filmed in colour, and then zoning on the black and white trial footage they can see on their monitors. “It really legitimises the use of the archive I hope, because you are with the team watching,” says Bowen.

Bowen pitched the idea as a new way into the Eichmann trial to BBC history commissioner Martin Davidson and then to BBC2, which was planning a Holocaust memorial season for January 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camps.

Simon Block (The Shooting of Thomas Hurndell) was commissioned to write the script. This drew on the archive of director Hurwitz, who regularly wrote to his wife during the filming, and also several of the trial crew and participants who are still alive. This includes Fruchtman – who is now in his mid-80s and lives in California.

The court room scenes were shot in Lithuania, in a former Soviet cinema. The film also shot in Malta, which stood in for Jerusalem. Both countries offered tax breaks to supplement the BBC budget, while Indian producer Vistaar Productions also invested.

Paul Andrew Williams, who’d won acclaim for BBC3 drama Murdered by My Boyfriend, was hired as director. He received the script in the summer of 2014, and signed up almost immediately.

But tight deadlines meant he had no rehearsal time with Martin Freeman or Anthony LaPaglia. “It’s easily the toughest shoot I have ever done, and the toughest job.” He had two months of prep, before a 22 day shoot. “We were shooting scenes in an hour that normally would take half a day or a day.”

Throughout he has sought to incorporate the trial footage as seamlessly as possible, citing the work of Oliver Stone as an inspiration in mixing archive and contemporary material. “I didn’t want to just film it, I wanted to shoot our own archive, to blend in as much of our drama footage with other stuff around from the time.”

This thinking clearly informed the entire project. Says Bowen: “I want people to feel how audiences felt in 1961 learning about the Holocaust for the first time.”

The Eichmann Show airs on January 20th at 9pm on BBC2

The Eichmann Show is a Feelgood Fiction production for the BBC

Paul Andrew Williams

Simon Block 

Laurence Bowen, Ken Marshall
Commissioning editor
Martin Davidson
Director of photography
Carlos Catalan
Production designer
Grenville Horner
Casting director
Julie Harkin
Make up
Egle Mikalauskaite
Daiva Petrulytre
Sheetal Talwar
Executive producer
Philip Clarke 

Posted 19 January 2015 by Tim Dams

The age of drone filming

2015 trends: Expect to see plenty more dramatic, sweeping aerial shots in factual, comedy and drama shows in 2015.

The era of affordable drone filming is very much upon us, thanks to advances in remote aerial platforms and gimbals. The launch in 2013 of the Movi gimbal, in particular, revolutionised the look of aerial shots – allowing producers to acquire super-smooth, filmic shots from the air that didn’t require huge amounts of image stabilisation in post.

For 2015, says Emma Boswell of the Helicopter Girls, the emphasis is going to be less on the aircraft and gimbals – and more on the cameras and what they can do. In particular, advances in wireless lens controllers mean that drone operators will be able to focus more on the quality of the shots. This will allow aerial footage to be better integrated into sequences.

“It means we can go back to the quality of the images rather than just being dazzled by being able to have an aerial view,” says Boswell, whose Helicopter Girls has worked on shows including The Detectorists, Teens and Da Vinci’s Demons using cameras like the Red Epic, Panasonic GH7 and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

The regulations surrounding drone filming also look set to tighten this year, particularly around cities and congested areas, as public concern increases over the number of unmanned aircraft in the sky.

There have been plenty of reports about operators losing control of their drones, including one where a drone fell onto an athlete at a sports meeting in Australia. A widely reported near miss between a drone and an airplane at Heathrow last year also focused attention on drone safety. Current Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules mean that anyone flying the aircraft on a commercial basis – ie for filming purposes – must have the correct CAA permission and be able to demonstrate basic flying skills.

The number of organisations given permits to use drones in the skies over Britain, including police forces and filmmakers, increased by 80% in 2014. The CAA currently authorises 359 operators using drones weighing under 20kg for work purposes.

The signs are that the CAA is becoming stricter in enforcement too, monitoring TV and internet footage for evidence of illegal drone filming. In 2014, it pursued two successful prosecutions over illegal drone flights, including one of a man who pleaded guilty to flying a quadcopter over rides at Alton Towers theme park.

At the moment, unmanned craft cannot be flown within 50 metres of structures, vehicles or people that are not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft. They cannot be flown within 150 metres of a congested area or large crowds of people.  The maximum altitude is restricted to 400ft.

Boswell thinks new regulations around drone filming will also mean it becomes more expensive as permissions become more complicated. Current prices for drone filming are around £1,500-£1,600 a day for many projects. Still, the fact that aerial filming adds so much to a show – in terms of scale, space, perspective and the ability to travel to previously inaccessible areas - means that its popularity will only increase in 2015.

Posted 14 January 2015 by Tim Dams

Online video ads account for just 1% of TV revenues

The latest predictions from analysts at Deloitte about the global TV market will make comforting reading for traditional broadcasters.

In its predictions for the media sector in 2015, Deloitte’s TMT practice plays down the impact of competition from short form video on YouTube, as well as from online VOD services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The report says ad revenues from short online videos will be worth over £3bn globally in 2015 - a spectacular achievement for a format that barely existed a decade ago.

However, Deloitte points out that short form video from vloggers like Zoella (pictured above) will represent only a tiny fraction of the revenues and viewing generated by traditional, long form broadcasters.

It says that overall revenues from online video will account for about 1% of the over £260bn that traditional broadcasters generate from advertising and subscription revenues. The professional services firm predicts that broadcasters will take £134bn from long-form advertising on television. Pay-TV subscriptions should approach £128bn.

In terms of viewing, the report says that online short-form video should generate ten billion hours of viewing a month.

However, Deloitte estimates that in an average month over 360 billion hours of long-form video will be watched, principally on television sets, and mostly live.

Meanwhile, Deloitte also predicts that online subscription video on demand (SVOD) services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video will generate about £5bn globally this year - around 3% of the £168bn pay-TV market.

“SVOD should not be considered solely as a competitor to pay-TV but more as a complementary service and replacement for DVD box sets.  In addition, SVOD players will struggle to match TV broadcasters’ investment in brand new high-end content,” said the report.

Posted 13 January 2015 by Tim Dams

Taking virtual reality to the next level

2015 trends: After years of false starts, virtual reality looks set for a bigger stage.

Asked recently about the technology he is most excited about, 21st Century Fox boss James Murdoch didn’t even hesitate before replying: virtual reality.

There have been years of false starts for the technology, which has been held back for several reasons – chief among them that it made users feel nauseous and that the environments weren’t real enough. But these problems are slowly being overcome as tech companies invest huge sums in virtual reality.

The nascent technology was thrust into the limelight last year when VR pioneer Oculus Rift was acquired by Facebook for an eye-watering $2bn. Facebook has been investing heavily in the Rift headset, which is expected to start selling to consumers this year.

Sony is seen as a key rival to Oculus Rift in the VR arena. Last year it unveiled its Project Morpheus prototype headset, but has not specified a price or release date for the device. There’s also great excitement around new VR outfit Magic Leap, which has secured $542m in funding from investors including Google.

Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus and Magic Leap’s technology are linked to computers or gaming platforms to create powerful VR experiences.

Other players have gone down the cheaper mobile route – which allows content to be played via VR apps on phones which can be slotted into cheap, specially designed headsets.

Google has launched Google Cardboard. Users download Google’s Cardboard VR app onto their phone, build their own headset with cardboard, and start watching.   Samsung has produced a mobile phone based headset, Gear VR, which went on sale to developers last month for $199. And lens manufacturer Carl Zeiss is already selling the VR One, a smartphone-enabled mobile headset that is selling to developers for $99.

As well as gaming, VR presents  plenty of possibilities for film and TV. This month’s Sundance Film Festival will be awash with VR installations, showcasing the technology to filmmakers. Sky plans to conduct VR trials on up to 15 shows, following investment in VR start up Jaunt.

British companies Atlantic Productions and Framestore have already pushed into the VR space. Indie producer Atlantic is pioneering VR content with a range of manufacturers and developers. They include two David Attenborough narrated projects, about the ancient seas (pictured above) and the world of insects, as well as projects about the ancient pyramids and life in the oceans. “2015 is going to be a very exciting year. A lot of projects are going to come out and I think people are going to be very excited by them,” says Atlantic CEO Anthony Geffen.

Framestore, meanwhile, launched a VR studio last year. It has produced several VR projects including one for Paramount Pictures based on the film Interstellar.and a VR ad for Volvo.

Relatively affordable devices that can deliver immersive experiences to consumers means that VR will be far more accessible than 3D. “Within two years the tech will be so far advanced and costs so low that millions of people will be able to have these experiences,” says Phil Harper, head of digital at Atlantic Productions.

Posted 12 January 2015 by Tim Dams

Indies fight to keep terms of trade

2015 trends: Moves to overhaul the terms of trade will be hard fought by producers this year

The independent production sector goes into 2015 off the back of a year of huge structural change – and will be dealing with the implications for the next 12 months.

Deal making was unprecedented in 2014 in terms of size and scale, led by the £550m takeover of All3Media by Discovery and Liberty Global, and the £2bn merger of Shine, Endemol and Core Media under the ownership of 21st Century Fox and Apollo Global Management.

Consolidation, which has gathered pace over the past three years, has fundamentally altered the character of the production sector.

Ofcom reported last month that “seven of the biggest 12 UK independent production companies are vertically integrated with broadcaster owning companies that have significant global scale.”

Ofcom welcomes the fact that the production sector has become a fast growing and profitable market that is attractive to investors. The sector has grown 3.4% on average each year since 2009, generating £2.8bn in revenue – largely as a result of increasing overseas revenue. (Ofcom notes, however, that margins are not particularly high, and have fallen in recent years as broadcaster spend has dipped.)

But, given such significant structural change in the sector, Ofcom has said it will review the terms of trade.  It says it will look at whether the relationship needs ‘rebalancing’ between production companies and broadcasters which offer terms of trade.

This follows calls by Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham and BBC director of television Danny Cohen to overhaul the terms of trade.  The BBC, for example, is working on plans to introduce distinct terms of trade models for different indies, as part of wider proposals to scrap commissioning quotas and open up inhouse programming to indies.

However, it’s questionable whether a fundamental change to the terms of trade is needed.

Several of the major superindies, such as All3Media and Endemol, will gradually lose their qualifying status because they have been acquired by broadcaster-owning companies. The only remaining superindies whose commissions will qualify as indie productions are Tinopolis, Zodiak, Fremantle and IMG Sports Media.

Moreover, there appears to be little evidence that consolidation has led to fewer opportunities for smaller producers to win commissions. Indeed, Televisual recently reported that there had been a slew of new indie launches.
Despite the trend of consolidation and increasing concentration in the market, smaller independent producers have actually increased market share, according to Ofcom.

The terms of trade have been a key contributing factor to the success of the indie sector – and moves to change them will be hard fought by producers in 2015.

Posted 09 January 2015 by Tim Dams

Where are they now? Andy Barmer - from Soho to MA graduate

What do people do after they have spent most of their career working in post production in Soho?

It's a question that's often asked at the start of each new year, when people reassess their careers and think about exploring new opportunities.

One person who has already done so is Andy Barmer, the former managing director of The Mill and Absolute Post.

In 2013, Barmer went back to university to study an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC (London College of Communication).

After many years of managing creatives, Barmer says he felt it was high time he gave it a go himself and the LCC course gave him the chance to develop his hobby of photography and explore his interest in the documentary form.

Barmer’s graduation piece, Abide With Me, is a 14 minute short he shot, edited, graded and produced himself. It looks at the lives of three generations of one family, and how the past has shaped their present.

Abide With Me from Andy Barmer on Vimeo.

Barmer maintains involvement in Absolute Post as a part-time non-exec director and having recently graduated will combine this with developing documentary film and photography projects.

Other work from Barmer’s colleagues on LCC’s MAPJD course can be seen here: An exhibition of their work can be seen at the college from 9 to 15 January.

Posted 08 January 2015 by Tim Dams

TV battles to keep young viewers

2015 trends: Broadcasters will spend much of 2015 battling for the hearts and minds of young viewers.

Young people are watching less traditional television in favour of online pursuits such as Facebook, YouTube or watching on demand services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, said Ofcom last month.

The regulator thinks the generation gap between older and younger viewers is getting wider in terms of TV viewing. It found that 16-24 year olds spent an average of 148 minutes a day watching TV in 2013, down from 169 minutes in 2010 – compared to an average of 232 minutes for all viewers.

Given these findings, the relaunch of BBC3 as an online only channel later this year will be watched very closely by all broadcasters and producers.

BBC3 is being axed as a TV channel principally to save money, but also to reinvent the service for a young audience that is increasingly online.

The decision to focus the channel on two “editorial pillars” – Make Me Laugh and Make Me Think – attracted some derision after initial details of plans for BBC3 were announced. However, it’s clear the corporation sees the relaunch of BBC3 as a key experiment in how it can keep in touch with the licence fee payers of the future.

Director general Tony Hall says he wants BBC3 to be a pathfinder for the whole BBC, searching out new ways to engage and entertain young audiences on their terms.  “What we learn from this process, and we’ll learn a lot, we’ll use to set a new strategic direction for the BBC and reinvent public service for the digital world.”

Director of television Danny Cohen insists that linear television is going to remain strong for a long time yet – and that channels and scheduling are still very important for audiences.

“But I am struck every single day by the pace of digital change going on around us, and what that means for both the BBC and our overall media experience.”

In particular, he says the media behaviour of young people is changing fast “and we need to be part of it.”

“For me as a broadcaster that means we need to succeed for perhaps the next five years in a hybrid world – it is going to be a world of linear and digital, broadcast and narrowcast, global and personal – we are going to have to be good at all of them.”

The BBC – and by implication other broadcasters – have two options, he says. “Do we sit back as a legacy company and watch the generational change bite away at our impact or do we take a place at the forefront of that change? We need to learn, fail, learn again, innovate and succeed. “

The BBC charter renewal process will begin in earnest after May’s election. To secure the licence fee, the corporation will have to prove that it can appeal to as broad an audience as possible in the face of unprecedented digital upheaval. In this context, the success or failure of the BBC3 relaunch could have far reaching implications.

Posted 08 January 2015 by Tim Dams

Preparing for a 4K future

2015 trends: Will 4K Ultra HD go mainstream in 2015? In a word, no. But Televisual has included it in the top themes of the year because 4K is the future of television – and 2015 will see important progress along the road to widespread 4K production and broadcasting.

A recent poll conducted as part of Televisual’s Production Technology Survey estimated it would take five to six years before 4K goes fully mainstream. Unlike the industry’s fleeting obsession with 3D, respondents were sure that 4K would take off.

For now, 4K television set sales are slow but are starting to pick up as prices fall. A 40” Panasonic Viera Ultra HD set is currently available for £699, for example. All the big brands, including Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Sony, now offer large ranges of 4K TVs.

Cost of the sets aside, the key reason that 4K Ultra HD sets haven’t been flying off the shelves is that there is currently little to watch in 4K.

Very few broadcasters around the world are have launched 4K channels. In the UK, the key players are still testing the technology. Sky, for example, recently shot the Ryder Cup in 4K as part of an ongoing trial. The BBC, meanwhile, has experimented with 4K broadcasts during big sporting events, including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the World Cup.

For now, most 4K content is streamed via internet by outfits such as Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix.

Netflix has announced all its originated content, including House of Cards, will be shot, posted and streamed in 4K. It’s also offering all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad in 4K, which it has remastered from the original film negatives.

Amazon is serving up shows such as Transparent in 4K.

However, consumers need a fast broadband services of around 20Mbps to receive 4K via the internet.

4K shooting is starting to take off as 4K cameras don’t always command a huge investment over HD cameras. Blackmagic, AJA, Sony and Panasonic all offer very affordable 4K models.

Televisual’s Production Technology survey found that a remarkable 23% of respondents had shot in 4K over the past year, on cameras such as the Red Epic or Sony F55. 33% planned to shoot in the format in 2015.

Many said they are filming in 4K to future-proof their productions or because they want to achieve the best quality visuals possible for a high-end doc or commercial.

Fewer have mastered in 4K though, choosing to downconvert to HD for post production. The amount of data captured when shooting in 4K is immense and requires a great deal more and a great deal faster storage, along with much more time-consuming back-ups and much more powerful (and therefore more expensive) equipment to playback and monitor 4K content. This all has significant cost implications.

Still, the industry believes that 4K workflows will become increasingly common as prices start to fall and the technology improves over time. Just as HD workflows slowly but surely replaced SD production methods, so too 4K will steadily move centre stage in production.

Posted 23 December 2014 by Tim Dams
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  • Editor Of Televisual
    Tim Dams is editor of Televisual magazine....
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