Subscribe Online  


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

All to play for as £4bn Premier League TV auction looms

First round bids for live UK broadcast rights to Premier League football are due in at the end of this week.

BT’s surprise move into Premier League football in the last auction drove up the cost of the rights by an astonishing 77% to £3bn. This year’s auction, for the three-year period beginning with the 2016-17 season, is billed as one of the most eagerly anticipated in the competition’s history. 168 live matches are up for grabs, split into seven packages (see list below). Sky and BT are seen as the likeliest victors.

But, with the possibility of Discovery-backed Eurosport and the Al Jazeera-owned beIN Sport joining the bidding process, the value of the rights could easily rise by another 20-30% say analysts – to £4bn.

Discovery boss David Zaslav reportedly travelled to London last month to meet the Premier League. The company took a majority stake in Eurosport last year, and tried to acquire Formula 1. The Qatar based beIN Sport is also seen as a possible bidder. The deep pocketed global sports network operates channels in France, the US, Canada and Australia where it holds rights to Serie A and the UEFA Champions League.

However, the pressure is on Sky and BT to emerge from the auction with a strong package of rights.

“The bottom line is that there is one set of rights that drives pay TV subscriptions in this country – and that is Premiership football. That is the one thing that Sky and BT cannot afford to loose,” says one leading sports producer. Financial broker Liberium recently carried out a survey of 500 Sky Sports customers, which showed that half would switch to rival BT if the latter won the majority of Premier League rights.  

This finding is echoed in a recent Ofcom report which concluded that access to sports channels ranked highest as a reason for subscribing to a pay TV service. And football is still the most important sport for subscribers to Sky Sports and BT Sport. A huge 60% of respondents said the Premier League was an essential part of their TV service. By comparison, no other individual sport or competition was considered to be essential by more than 22% (Test cricket was considered essential by 19% of respondents, Rugby Six Nations by 18% and Formula One by 18%).

There is so much at stake for both Sky and BT, that most observers believe they will be the highest bidders. “My gut sense is that it is a two horse race between Sky and BT,” says a media analyst. “The only question is whether BT gets more games than it did last time.” Many expect BT to at least attempt to increase its packages up from two to three of the seven available.

Observers contacted by Televisual question the commercial rationale for Discovery-owned Eurosport to put in a sizeable bid for live televised rights when it lacks its own pay-TV platform. Without this, they ask, how could it recoup the investment through carriage deals and ad revenue alone? “I think I will call it for Sky and BT,” says one analyst. “I cannot see any commercial reason why Eurosport would wish to get into a massive bid for live televised rights.”

BeIn Sport, meanwhile, is perceived as “not so strong at tenders”, says one football agent contacted by Televisual. It recently lost the tender for French rugby to Canal+. However, it recently emerged that it has been using London sports rights specialist Mark Oliver as a consultant on Premier League possibilities.

Sky’s track record with the Premier League should prove advantageous. Its partnership with the Premier League has been mutually beneficially since 1992. “The relationship that Sky has with the Premier League has to count for something’” says one observer.

Sky won the maximum rights available to a single broadcaster in the 2012 and 2009 auctions, and its bid team is very experienced. Ofcom recently judged that Sky “continues to enjoy an advantage over other bidders”; it knows it can make certain numbers work as it has built a large subscriber base and can bundle its key sports channels with other pay TV services.

Sky could also benefit from BT Sport’s expensive £897m capture of exclusive Champions League rights.  This has drained money from BT’s war chest, and will have increased Sky’s determination to hang onto the lion’s share of Premier League rights.

BT also had to put aside £2bn last month to plug its swelling pension defecit, and is in talks to buy mobile operator EE for £12.5bn. Analysts also say BT may be more cautious in the amount it bids as a result of tests being proposed by regulator Ofcom to make sure it does not price rivals such as Sky and Talk Talk out of the broadband market. BT currently offers its sports channels for free to broadband customers, a policy it may have to rethink under the new rules.

Sky, meanwhile, will be constrained by higher debt levels following the creation of Sky Europe, which saw BSkyB pay £4.9bn to take over Rupert Murdoch’s pay TV companies in Germany and Italy. Even if Sky were outbid, there are some who say it might not prove catastrophic for the business. Says one analyst: “Sky is far less dependent on football now. In the 1990s, the success of Sky was driven by sport and especially football. Now its offering is much broader.”

BT will obviously want a bigger chunk of rights – but the big question is what is the maximum affordable bid for the broadcaster. Unlike Setanta, BT has proved a solid, well resourced second partner for the Premier League, based out of its new sports broadcasting HQ in the Olympic Park.

“BT are in it for the long haul. They have shareholder support, massive studios, and know the value of the rights to them” says a producer.

The auction could, however, be delayed. Virgin Media has asked Ofcom to intervene, claiming that pay TV customers pay too much to watch Premier League football because of the way the rights are sold. It says too few matches are broadcast, which drives up the price of rights. Ofcom has launched an investigation, which will be concluded after this month’s auction.

Whenever the deal does conclude, money will be the key decider. It is Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore’s job to get the best deal possible for the clubs. And it is in his interest to have two financially successful broadcasters, like Sky and BT, in the Premier League.

Premier League auction stats
168 live matches are up for auction, up from the current 154 – split into seven packages.

Up to 10 new Friday night games will be offered as part of one package that also includes 18 Monday night games.

No single bidder will be allowed to acquire more than 126 matches.

The current live rights are shared by Sky with 116 games, and BT with 38. In 2012, Sky bid £2.28bn, while BT bid £738m.

Premier League TV rights have soared since Sky paid £191m in 1992 over five years.

The BBC paid £204m for Premier League highlights in late January, allowing it to keep Match of the Day. This was 13.5% more than in 2012. ITV decided against bidding.

The 2012 process was run as a blind 
auction. Bidders had to submit a sealed 
offer for each package without knowing what others had bid or even their identity. This gave BT the element of surprise.

On-demand and internet clips will be 
auctioned at a later date. An auction for international broadcasters will also be held later this year. In 2012, international broadcasters paid £2bn for PL rights.                                                        

Sky remains the biggest UK pay TV retailer, with up to 10.7m customers. BT has 1m TV subscribers; in total BT Sport is available in 5m homes via different platforms. Total revenues of pay-TV broadcasters, including  Virgin and Talk Talk, hit £5.9bn in 2013.                    

BT won exclusive rights for the 2015-18 Champions League, and has some FA Cup matches and the Europa League. BT also holds rights to English Premiership Rugby, the NBA and some motor sports.

Sky holds the rights for Football League matches. Outside football, it has nearly all live cricket, all Formula 1 races, the majority of golf coverage, rugby league, darts and the NFL.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Posted 02 February 2015 by Tim Dams

Interview: Ed Coulthard, Blast! Films

Blast! Films has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. In the cut and thrust world of independent documentary production, it’s an impressive milestone.

The Kentish Town-based indie made its name with distinctive, award winning docs and dramas including Tina Goes Shopping, The Death of Klinghoffer, The Year London Blew Up, Soundproof, Coppers, The Year the Town Hall Shrank as well as Steve McQueen’s feature debut Hunger.

In recent years, Blast has broadened out into popular factual, producing series such as The Tube, The Supervet, 999: What’s Your Emergency and The Route Masters: Running London Roads. It’s also making three series for US broadcasters, including two for Discovery.

As a result, Blast has tripled in size in the last three years, says founder and creative director Edmund Coulthard. This growth looks set to continue in to 2015. The indie has just picked up its first two rig show commissions from C4.

Both are firsts for the technology. Trawlermen takes the rig out on to the high seas, chronicling the aspirations of young crewmen trying their hand out in the high-risk fishing industry. London Night Bus sees a London bus rigged up with 12 cameras and a vision mixer to catch the lively atmosphere of late night transport across the capital. It’s billed as a window onto nighttime London as the capital becomes a 24-hour city. Blast is also making ob doc series The Post Office for BBC2.

And Blast has just hired C4 commissioning editor Nick Hornby as head of programmes, with a brief to “take us to the next stage”, says Coulthard. He’s joined a team that includes md Claire Bosworth, head of factual Alistair Pegg, head of development James O’Reilly and exec producers David Hodgkinson, Nick Cory-Wright and Alex Sutherland.

Asked to describe Blast, Coulthard says the indie is focused on making “high quality, passionate filmmaking that has a purpose to it.” Blast’s films are, he adds, “about something.” He believes this is one of the reasons Blast has grown recently. Television, he thinks, has moved out of the “Wife Swap era” when formats were king.  Now, there’s “quite a strong demand for quality factual,” he adds. “It genuinely feels like a productive time for factual production.”

“You feel the audience are much more interested in authenticity, and docs are having their time in the sun.” This has played into Blast’s hands. Even though the indie has diversified into popular factual, Coulthard insists it hasn’t lost sight of its core values.

Docs like Routemaster, The Tube and 999 are about the state of the nation. “We use the access to hold a mirror up to Britain – who we are, how we’re changing,” says Coulthard, who explains that Routemaster isn’t just about buses but also about issues such as immigration. ‘I’m not interested in television that isn’t about anything,” he says.

Coulthard says the turning point for Blast in terms of growth came when it started to concentrate on producing big series. Coulthard, who had made his name directing docs and dramas (he won Baftas for BBC2 drama Tales from Pleasure Beach and Soundproof), moved out of making shows to help run the development of series.

Production budgets have not gone up for the past 10 years, he notes, which means the only way to survive and thrive as a TV indie is by generating revenue from international sales. And the demand in the international market is for series. “Series can put your company on a different footing,” he says.

That doesn’t mean Blast isn’t interested in single docs. He points out that there have been a spate of “brilliant” single docs on TV – including The Paedophile Hunter, The Murder Trial and Baby P: The Untold Story. Single films are a good platform to nurture talented directors, allowing greater freedom to express themselves than a series where the executive producer is the dominant voice.

Blast, has, however moved away from producing drama such as Soundproof and Hunger. “It’s not something you can do on the side,” says Coulthard, adding that there is only a small pool of writers who broadcasters want to work with and that it is very difficult to compete with specialist drama indies.

That said, he says Blast doesn’t feel challenged by the fact that it is not part of a superindie group. “Broadcasters want quality programming – they don’t mind where it comes from,” he says. Back in 2007 RDF Media Group took a 20% stake in the indie, but Blast bought this back after RDF was sold to European superindie Zodiak Media. It means Blast is one of very few mid-sized true indies remaining after the huge round of indie consolidation.

Coulthard says one of the reasons for its longevity is that Blast moved away from being a production company that pursued only filmmaker interests.  “To survive you need to have a sense of humility about what viewers are interested in,” he concludes.

Born  Swansea 1961
School Bishop Gore Comprehensive, Swansea
Universities BA in English at King’s College, London; MPhil at Jesus College, Oxford
Career Researcher on After Dark and The Media Show
1992/3  Director of The Promised Land for BBC/Discovery
1994  Founded Blast! Films to make doc I’ll Be Your Mirror
2001 Wins Bafta for best new director for BBC drama Tales From Pleasure Beach
2006  Wins Bafta best director for BBC2 thriller Soundproof
2008 Blast produces Steve McQueen’s feature debut Hunger
2010 Blast produces police C4 doc series Coppers
2012 Blast produces The Tube and first series of 999: What’s Your Emergency
2013 The Route Masters nominated for Bafta doc series; The Year the Town Hall Shrank wins Grierson for best doc series
2014 Blast produces two series of The Supervet for C4

Posted 26 January 2015 by Tim Dams

Is the single doc making a comeback on TV?

Are single docs having a mini-revival? At first glance, it seems they might. BBC2 is bringing back single documentary strand Modern Times strand this month, with a short run of four films including Sue Bourne’s The Vikings Are Coming (pictured above).

BBC1 won also plaudits for playing powerful single doc Baby P: The Untold Story in primetime. ITV has just devoted an hour of primetime – uninterrupted by ads – to Tsunami: Survivors’ Stories. C4 has enjoyed strong coverage for singles, notably controversial titles The Paedophile Hunter, The Paedophile Next Door (pictured below) and Meet the Police Commissioner. C4 recently unveiled a slate of new singles to play out at 10pm, including Sex Party Secrets  from James Newton at Minnow Films and The Escorts from Amos Pictures’ Dan Reed.

Single docs certainly seem to be creating more noise in the schedules. While they might not always be ratings winners, they can provide a reputational boost to broadcasters. “They can punch above their weight,” says C4 head of docs Nick Mirsky.

“The single documentary is extremely important in the mix,” adds acting BBC head of docs Maxine Watson. “It’s the way in which we get to tell a variety of pertinent stories... When we get it right, they can be as impactful as a drama in terms of audience.”

And it seems there is untapped demand for the thought provoking, challenging material offered by such docs. Research by Ofcom suggests viewers want to see more original content. ”There appears to be an emerging concern among audiences about the levels of original and innovative content being produced relative to more tried and tested programmes and formats,” the regulator said in its recent PSB review.

But it is no easy task for broadcasters to attract viewers to single docs in the competitive digital world. Audiences might say they want more original single docs, but when faced with a choice between the unfamiliar and a recognisable format or series, they will often opt for the easy option.

For this reason, doc makers don’t buy into the notion of a single doc revival. “There are lots of single films you’ll never hear of. I wouldn’t take the small number that create a huge impact as necessarily being representative of a revival,” says Colin Barr, creative director of Minnow Films, which has won Baftas for single docs 7/7: One Day in London and The Fallen.

“There’s always been the occasional single film that breaks through, but I do think it is harder and harder for them to do so,” says Magnus Temple, chief exec The Garden, which produces series like 24 Hours and A&E and 24 Hours in Police Custody – as well as singles such as The Merits of Ferrets.

“In the past there were a lot more singles. Now there are far more two and three parters,” adds Sue Bourne, the director of acclaimed singles such as My Street, Mum & Me and Fabulous Fashionistas.

The problem for producers too is that it is very difficult to make money from single docs, which have budgets of around £150k at the top end. Says Colin Barr, “They make absolutely no money and suck up huge amounts of exec time. It is very difficult to have a business model based on single films.” Series, by comparison, provide far greater revenues and stability.

Sue Bourne says she survives by running “the smallest production company in Britain” – she works from home with no overheads and no staff.

“It’s often completely pointless to do single films,” says Magnus Temple. But, he explains they are vital for the creative culture of The Garden. “If you imagine being an upmarket shop – a cool boutique – and all you sold was one particular product. That would be slightly dull, even if the product were really great.

“We often talk about having a mixed ecology slate, which is really important as company. People that come to work here like to feel that there all sorts of different things going on.”

His point is backed up by Richard McKerrow, creative director of Love Productions, which produces hit series Bake Off and Benefits Street through to upcoming Modern Times single A Big Night For Warwick Davis. “If we gave up the notion of doing single docs, we’d be dead. They are really important for the creative culture of the company.” He points out that they are an excellent way to nurture talent – and can also lead to hugely successful series. He cites My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which began as a one off Cutting Edge and went on to spawn a run of hit series.

The documentary sensibility learned on singles, he believes, lies at the heart of British success with constructed docs and features. Bake Off, he adds, was commissioned through the docs department at the BBC – and is ultimately about access to great bakers.

Certainly, broadcasters don’t seem to be hugely upping their number of singles. The BBC’s vaunted return of Modern Times is actually very cautious – there are just four films in the initial run.

Mirsky says that C4 will broadcast around 40-50 singles each year. He acknowledges that the number is not rising or falling year on year. But he does think the channel’s singles are sharper and better defined, helping them to stand out more. It used to be, he says, that directors delivered singles that “felt a bit in the same territory as some of our big series”. But because they didn’t have the rig, longevity of access or scale of production, they could feel blander than the series.

However, shows like The Paedophile Hunter “give you a singular vision of something that is a phenomenon in Britain today.”

Certainly, it’s not all doom and gloom for the single. Bourne thinks the future of the single doc “lies on the shoulders of the very good self-shooters” rather than expensive teams. Younger filmmakers, she adds, are finding other outlets for the films they want to make. So they self fund via Kickstarter campaigns, or look at alternative outlets like Vice, Al Jazeera and YouTube. BBC3 also plans to air more online short form one-offs this year.

“The internet may not provide you with money, but it does get you noticed.” She says her most recent doc Fabulous Fashionistas was uploaded onto YouTube and had a million views, mainly in the US,  before it was taken down. “The film has had a remarkable life after its one 10pm TX on C4 – more widespread than any other film I have done.” Proof indeed that singles can still punch above their weight.

One-slots: where singles can find a broadcast partner
BBC1 plays singles at 10.35pm. Acting head of docs Maxine Watson says it’s a ‘lively space for films that deal with harder edged subjects’, including Bafta winner Between Life and Death. However, producers say singles can struggle to get noticed in such a late slot.

BBC1 will occasionally play reputational singles in the heart of primetime – like Baby P: The Untold Story.

BBC2 brings back single doc strand Modern Times this month, with a run of four films and a further five in the autumn.

BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw told the Televisual Factual Festival she would like more singles on the channel, citing the success of Dan Reed’s Terror at the Mall.

BBC3’s future is up in the air as it prepares for an online relaunch in the autumn, although factual is at the heart of its plans. The BBC3 Fresh strand has commissioned six single films a year from up and coming directors.

BBC4 is the home of the acclaimed Storyville. “No turkeys, no worthiness, no dullness,” says the Storyville commissioning brief.

ITV will occasionally open up its schedules to singles, like last month’s Tsunami: Survivors Stories. “If you offer us single films, they have to be singular films. They have to be inherently noisy and somehow talked about,” commissioner Jo Clinton-Davis told the Televisual Factual Festival.

Channel 4 plays most of its single films through three established strands: Cutting Edge - contemporary, newsworthy stories from established directors; True Stories - often stranger than ficition, authored stories from the UK and abroad; and First Cut, for new directors. “A single doc”, says C4 head of docs Nick Mirsky, “will often capture the total 100% all absorbing commitment of the director. It can give space to their creative vision.”

Sky has had success with feature docs on Sky Atlantic, and runs 12 a year. They’re a mixture of commisioned, co-produced and acquired, like Known Unknown and No Good Reason.

Posted 21 January 2015 by Tim Dams

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
Showing 121 - 128 Records Of 373

About this Author

  • Contributing Editor, Televisual
    Tim Dams is contributing editor of Televis...
  • Total Posts: 373

Recent Posts by This Author



Televisual Media UK Ltd 23 Golden Square, London, W1F 9JP
©2009 - 2017 Televisual. All rights reserved
Use of this website signifies your agreement to the Terms of Use | Disclaimer