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Behind the scenes: BBC3's Be Your Own Boss

Exec producer of Be Your Own Boss Tamara Abood tells Jon Creamer about creating a new business show while leaving the spectre of The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den behind

Every commissioner in TV land spends restless nights dreaming of bringing the next Apprentice or Dragons' Den to the screen. A long-running business format with big entertainment values has long been the pot of gold at the end of the telly rainbow.

But there's also a danger inherent in the quest for the next big business show. The shows that have come before cast a long shadow. They are formats that have created their own grammar and any series that doesn't break out of that can end up looking like just a pale imitation.

So Tamara Abood, exec producer of BBC3's new entrepreneur show, Be Your Own Boss knew the series had to walk a fine line. “This is BBC3’s response to the glut of business shows that are out there,” says Abood. And the drive was "what do we do to mark it out as different and that also reflects the BBC3 demographic?"

But the spectre of business shows past was always there. "What I was really worried about was it could be a show where it's reduced to a series of sequences of people going to branding experts and marketing experts and all the grammar of what's needed to produce content," says Abood. So instead, the push was to do "something a bit more nerve wracking" by having "a very light hand on the producer tiller. We actually said 'let's see how this plays out a bit'. And the truth is [the budding business people] were so motivated they pulled us along. They brought their own momentum to it."

The action on the show starts with an 'expo' that was shot over a bank holiday weekend at the Truman Brewery where 500 budding entrepreneurs were invited to pitch their ideas to Innocent Smoothies co founder, Richard Reed. Each episode then starts with Reed picking three groups or individuals and handing them a few grand in seed capital before sending them off to prove to him that the idea works. The end of each episode then has those entrepreneurs finding out if any or all of them will be winning a much larger investment from Reed.

The format itself was very much guided by the central talent, says Abood. And the difference between a Reed and a Sugar or a dragon provided much of the difference between this show and those that have come before. "In the course of our conversations with him the idea evolved," says Abood. "It reflects who he is and his ethos. That runs through it so it marks itself out." And the lack of the "nasty" edge that typifies most shows is evident. "That's a massive part of it, it goes back to that thing of who he is. Richard's blunt at times when he needs to be but it has a very different feel," says Abood. "He even hugs people."

Another break from The Apprentice is the series' closed episodes, helpful for repeatability on a digital channel, but also a helpful way of following more participants and providing a point of difference. "We're not going to follow a few people across the series. He wanted to be able to give an opportunity to as many people as he could and we didn't want to be constrained by only following X number over the series. It makes it a potentially more interesting show because we're used to the grammar of seeing people eliminated in many of these business shows."

It's also a show more rooted in reality than others. "It's very much rooted in the real world. It is an entertainment commission that has all of the fun of the fair, but we are watching young people in their back bedrooms trying to make their business idea work. There's no house they share, they're not competing against each other so he can invest in all the businesses or none at all."

In terms of production, avoiding accusations of borrowing from The Apprentice were also important. "There are no helicopter shots in this and skylines we don't do," says Abood. And the reality parts of the show look "lightly produced so it feels real. Not gritty and hopefully not ugly but real." But the show is an entertainment commission. "For the big set up stuff - the expo and the ending, those things have a look and feel that's a bit more luxuriant. It still has the high-end gloss factor of a big entertainment show. At the expo we had Steadicams, jibs, Sony PDW 800s and Canon C300s. It was camera-tastic. The overall impression is of a glossy show with some scale. There's a lot of fun in it."

Be Your Own Boss is a new Twofour/BBC3 business format that has the co-founder of Innocent Smoothies, Richard Reed, picking groups of entrepreneurs to hand a small amount of seed capital to who are then filmed as they go out and prove their business idea can work. Those that make the grade are then in line to pick up major funding from the businessman.
Production company
Commissioned by
BBC3 controller Zai Bennett and executive editor, entertainment comissioning, Alan Tyler
Exec producers
Tamara Abood, Dan Adamson and Andrew Mackenzie for Twofour
Series producer
Juliette Murray-Topham
Kim Wechter
Canon C300s and Sony PDW800s for the set pieces and Canon 305s for the director shot stories

Posted 12 September 2012 by Jon Creamer

Making factual TV multiplatform

At the upcoming Televisual Factual Festival, a panel of digital practitioners will give their take on how to form multiplatform strategies for factual productions. Here is a preview of what they'll be talking about

Dan Jones,
head of multiplatform,
Maverick Television

Multiplatform has been on broadcaster's agendas for a good ten years now, so every indie has a thriving multiplatform arm and a solid new revenue steam, right? Well not quite - limited budgets, squeezed margins and a difficult rights environment make business very tough - but new models and approaches are beginning to bear fruit. Creatively, the space is thriving, from tracking foxes and spying on hippos to fighting for fish's rights and monitoring worrying moles (your own). Apps and social media activity are starting to usefully drive editorial, accessible technology is allowing new forms of interaction, and successful new factual formats are finally being generated from original multiplatform ideas.

Adam Gee,
multiplatform commissioning editor, features
and factual entertainment, C4

The focus of my attention is on creating factual multiplatform television with two key characteristics - (i) highly integrated (ii) with ambition and impact. The commission which best captures what I'm trying to achieve is probably Embarrassing Bodies Live from the Clinic. If you remove the interactive, digital dimension from the show it barely exists; and if you had the Skype stuff with no peaktime TV presence that too would be a far lesser being. Here's a tweet from Dr Christian during this last series: "Radiologist made contact to say 5 women came in after watching @EmbBodies breast check. 3 turned out to have cancer, thankfully caught early" It captures the impact and ambition aspect perfectly.

Simon Meek,
creative head,
The Story Mechanics

For a while now, you could be forgiven for thinking the TV industry has been chasing its tail with its multiplatform ambitions... it has! Thankfully, there are now a few clear markers as to where the industry is heading and what commissioners actually want, with an array of new acronyms for good measure. IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) are the letters on most people's lips, where new forms of interactive entertainment are only a finger press away; and the potential for dual-screening is huge, particularly in the factual market. The big question is whether it's the TV indies that should be producing the next wave of digital content?

Nick Underhill,
Keo Films Digital

At KEO films we place digital media at the heart of the multiplatform production process to avoid it becoming an inconvenient afterthought. This approach has been central to our recent successes, enabling the engagement of large and loyal audiences despite the chalk and cheese approach to production. For it to work well, both sides need to be open and pragmatic around content and trust in their shared goals despite different perceptions of value.

Posted 05 September 2012 by Jon Creamer

Behind the scenes of Sky Atlantic's mega doc The British

Indie Nutopia follows up its mega doc about the history of the US with a series for Sky Atlantic on the British. Exec producer Ben Goold tells Jon Creamer about televising 2000 years in seven hours

You have to look pretty far back to a time when the history mega doc packed with drama and cgi was an almost constant feature of the primetime schedules.

But Jane Root's indie Nutopia has managed to revive the genre, first with the enormous ten-parter America: The Story of Us for the History Channel US, the upcoming Mankind: The Story of All of Us and now with the equally ambitious The British for Sky Atlantic - a big budget mix of high end drama, cgi and interviews with well known Brits.

But the seven hour series that runs through British history from the Roman invasion to the TV age is a different beast from those big budget history series that existed a few years back, says exec producer Ben Goold. "Those early big factual dramas were great but they were telling single stories and had ambitions to be factually led feature films. But we're doing something different. It's more multi-layered. The drama carries character-led stories but we also have cgi, documentary, interviews."

It's also a series that's not being approached as a "history" says Goold. "We never call it the history of Britain. What we try to do is tell a story of Britain. It's not aimed at an audience that would necessarily watch history." Because a big budget show has to have more mainstream ambitions. "We wanted to take history out of the history documentary slot. It's a story that's meant to appeal to a wide audience and a younger audience used to Hollywood movies and computer games."

Which is why the scale of the show is so important. "That allows us to be more entertaining and to create a more real and visceral world that draws you in and has the qualities of drama or film. It's about creating a world that feels authentic and real so the characters don't feel like historical cut outs."

The drama itself was shot partly in the UK, partly in Morocco (when the focus turned to the Crusades) and partly in South Africa and is made on the same scale as any big budget pure drama, says Goold "except we have less time." He describes the shoot as "exciting but punishing. We're shooting a different story in a different period in a different location with a different cast and a whole different set of costumes and art department requirements every day." The speed is aided by the lack of dialogue but there's still "a lot to do" and "there are few economies of scale." But with America already completed and the even more ambitious Mankind still in production, the team have developed a "creative machine. We learnt a lot from our mistakes on our first one. We have a model for how you set it up and how you do it." And the production teams have stayed relatively constant from project to project. "It's great to have new people and fresh talent but also we don't want to re-invent the wheel every time." The production model is being honed so it can be shifted to the stories of other nations with either Nutopia producing or, possibly, with Nutopia just consulting.

The drama itself is shot "in a very particular way, " says Goold. "The mid shot is our enemy." It also has to look real. "In an ancient world things are dirty. We've got an eye to that real sense of grittiness and earthiness. We don't want everyone to look like they've stepped out of an oil painting." The constant drive is for it not to feel "like a perfect costume drama full of bonnets. The moment people feel the characters are wearing a costume then we haven't done our job."

The cg, created by Rushes, also has a particular job to do. "It's not classic drama enhancement. It's not reveals of cities in the background or Rome on the seven hills." The cg is both explanatory and purposely fantastical. "In a way we're breaking the rules of the cgi houses whose first instinct is to create cgi that you don't know is cgi." The mantra is "if the audience doesn't know it's cgi then we're wasting the money." The drive is to create something closer to animation. "We're zooming through landscape, linking between stories and crossing history and time at an incredibly fast pace so we're seeing towns appear, buildings build themselves and landscapes transform." And, as with the rest of the show "it's supposed to be fun and entertaining as well as tell a story."

The British follows on from Nutopia's US mega doc, America: The Story of Us. The Sky Atlantic seven-parter tells the history of Britain and Ireland from the Roman invasion to the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, using drama, CGI and commentary from historians along with well known names from the worlds of entertainment, politics and science.
Executive producers
Ben Goold, Peter Lovering, Phil Craig, Jane Root for Nutopia br /> Celia Taylor for Sky
Series producers
Sam Starbuck, Michael Waterhouse
Nick Green, Louise Hooper, Jenny Ash
Production designer
Birrie le Roux
DoP's Mike Snyman, Giulio Biccari
Composer Ty Unwin
Jonathan Privett and Louise Hussey at Rushes
CGI producer
Nicola Kingham
Line producers
Lareine Shea
Peter McAleese
Interviews shot on Sony PDW F800 and a variety of cameras for the drama shoot

Posted 05 September 2012 by Jon Creamer

Raw TV on taking The Imposter to the movies

Raw TV's md Dimitri Doganis and creative director Bart Layton, best known for long running TV series Banged Up Abroad and Gold Rush, explain how and why they took their doc, The Imposter to the movies

The Imposter tells the story of how a 23-year-old Frenchman, Frederic Bourdin convinced a Texas family that he was their missing 16-year-old son. The feature doc, directed by Bart Layton and produced by Dimitri Doganis,  has played at festivals around the world and gets a UK cinema release in August

What was the biggest leap when moving from TV docs to theatrical?
DD It's a different business model, a different visual sensibility, a different way of structuring story and pacing. It's also about the engagement with the life of this thing after it's finished. That's still something we're coming to grips with. Television is a very ephemeral thing; a film keeps requiring your involvement.

How was it different to TV in terms of structure?
BL On TV you've got five minutes at the beginning and if you haven't smashed the audience with something amazing you may not have them for the rest of the time. With this I wanted people to go on a journey where it took them quite some time to find out where they were in the story and what was happening. Documentary is usually about finding a definitive version of the truth, but there were conflicting versions of the same events. I wanted to take the audience on a similar journey we went on so the audience member is part of that detective story.

Did that inform the dramatic elements of the film?
DD It's made in a slightly hyper-real space, slightly floaty camera work and slightly off kilter shutter speeds. People talk to you in the re-enactments and you often see the actor lip-synching the interview.
BL It's not presented as fake archive or as an established truth. The drama is an extension of the storytelling – one person's subjective take. The key to it was to make it not look like reality but somewhere between movie, memory and documentary.

Were these techniques you could have used on TV?
BL To do that you have to bring in an amazing DoP and storyboard artist – people who we don't historically have the budget or time for on TV.

Did the story itself demand a theatrical doc?
DD From the first time Bart told me about the story we both knew this was different from all the stuff we spend our day to day working lives on. There was the opportunity to do something bigger and bolder and the story required that. We then risked a lot of our time and money to get it made. We gambled a lot on the fact that it would work for theatrical. We were always determined we were going to make it as a film whether we'd got the money from the places we did or not. It felt like everything we'd been doing for the last ten years had been building to this opportunity.

Has making it been worthwhile?
DD The glory of being truly independent is you get to make decisions that may seem slightly insane but actually it’s my belief that they are the best decisions you can make. If you look at the amount of time as individuals and as a company we’ve sunk into this film it’s a complete loss maker but it's the best thing we've ever done. And, I believe, the stepping-stone into a whole new realm of possibilities that would have been closed to us before.

Posted 21 August 2012 by Jon Creamer

Our War 2: behind the scenes

Bafta winner Our War told the story of the British troops in Afghanistan through the soldiers’ own footage. Exec producer Colin Barr tells Jon Creamer about returning to the frontline for series two

How do you begin the process?
We go out and meet lots of different regiments and soldiers and we gather footage from those soldiers on hard drives and memory sticks. You're looking for blocks of material you think can be constructed into stories and once you hit those blocks, then that's the platform on which we"ll build the story. Then you go into your research and do the interviews that hold the whole thing together.

What's the production model for the series?
The production model is quite different to a conventional doc because the emphasis is so heavily on the editing side of things and much lighter on the filming side. And it's front loaded at the research end when we’re trying to find the footage that will inspire the films. In the first series we learned just how long you have to allow in the edit to weave together material that was never intended for broadcast with the interviews to make it feel coherent and solid and dramatic.

Is there any way to plan the stories beforehand?
We tried in the first series to do assemblies and to get ahead of ourselves before the edits but the reality is, until you've got the director and the editor in a room together trying to shape the thing a lot of that work is wasted.

Is it difficult to understand what you're watching when you first see the footage?
A lot of the time you've no idea what the context is. Soldiers aren't marking up their files as such so you have to go back and challenge them a bit and say "are you sure this is filmed this day and in this place because it doesn't look like it?" You then go through two or three different sources to find out when something was filmed and there's no shortcut to that. You just have to go through the laborious process of asking and asking again.

Does the technical quality of some of the footage preclude its use?
If the story is right and the characters are good then the technical quality of the material doesn’t affect us at all. Sometimes, with the way cameras are now, it can almost look too good and it doesn't look like helmet-cam footage any more. It's almost too pristine, the colours are almost too vivid. Sometimes that's good but sometimes it's distracting. With the GoPros they're using now, the sound isn't great but the picture quality is incredible.

What's the clearance process with the MOD?
We inform the regiment and the MOD about who we're filming etc, so there's a relationship there. At rough-cut stage they can view it but only to comment on issues of operational or personal security. There's a red flag system so if there's something they feel is going to jeopardise operations or put soldiers lives at risk, they can red flag it and we discuss it and they then have to prove their case. If it's proved we'll take that out but editorially they don't have any say at all.

And what about with the soldiers and their families?
We have viewings throughout with families and individual soldiers. Consent is such a rolling process. Everybody at every stage has to consent and if that breaks down then we can't broadcast so we need to make sure.

Have you learned lessons from making the last series?
We're more focussed because we've got a better sense of what we're looking for. What we need is a core cast of characters and a single narrative if we can get it.

What else did you do differently this time?
Part of what you do differently is the storytelling techniques you use but also the voices you find and the framing devices you use. You learn so much in a first series so we know now what works best. The last series had films with two or three different strands in them and it worked but it's never as good as having a single narrative.

Is this found-footage technique very different from traditional documentary?
As more and more people use UGC, people are always asking does this change the way we tell stories or does it mean old-fashioned doc makers have had their day? Actually, the opposite is true. When you start working with material like this you realise how much you resort to classic doc techniques and storytelling devices. You have to work harder at making the elements work because they don't naturally work. You have to grind them into a powder just keep cutting and cutting until they work together. It's almost as if it makes those traditional skills even more important.

BBC3's Our War used a combination of frontline troops' own amateur footage along with interviews with those same soldiers to take viewers right into the heart of battle. The second three parter hones more new stories from a vast mountain of amateur footage.
TX 13 August
Production company BBC inhouse
Length 3x60-minutes
Executive producer Colin Barr
John Douglas
Tom Herington
Katharine English
Editor Reva  Childs
Dan Reed
Editor Peter Haddon
Commissioned by
BBC3 controller 
Zai Bennett
Associate producer 
Roger Courtiour
Production manager
Michelle Galvin
Assistant producers
Hayley Reynolds, Anna Stephens
Media manager
Nathan Carr
Compost Creative
Chad Hodson
Narrated by
Shaun Dooley

Posted 21 August 2012 by Jon Creamer

Behind the scenes on Sienna Miller Hitchcock drama The Girl

Director Julian Jarrold tells Jon Creamer about shooting upcoming BBC drama, The Girl, which details legendary director Alfred Hitchcock's destructive obsession with his star Tippi Hedren

It's a tough call for a director, shooting a film about one of the most lauded and influential filmmakers of all time.

But that's what Julian Jarrold was faced with as he approached The Girl, a new one-off BBC drama that tells the true story of Alfred Hitchcock's obsessive desire for the star of both The Birds and Marnie, Tippi Hedren.

It's a tough call because there's an ever-present danger of ending up with a crass imitation rather than a period take on Hitchcock's world. "A lot of films have tried to be Hitchcockian in style and plotting and haven't really worked," says Jarrold. "I was aware of that and the huge danger of copying from the master. It's not in any way trying to imitate."

But it was also important to take the viewer into Hitchcock's world. "I didn't try a completely Hitchcockian style but we did give it a look that’s more in common with that world and shooting style as an overall feel."
But at times, a straight copy of Hitchcock was required. The film takes in Sienna Miller (as Tippi) shooting scenes from The Birds, and then those scenes being played out in Hitchcock's screening room later.  For those "we are trying to recreate very accurately the scene whether through filters, lighting, camera work and the rest of it. We shot those on 35mm film, with lots of filters and we graded it to give it that Technicolor look."

So by contrast, the rest of the film had to take a step back from the Hitchcock style. "The rest of the film we shot on the Arri Alexa and although we did use certain filtration to give it that 60s period feel, we wanted a subtle difference. Hitchcock's style is highly artificial. It's a unique style that nobody does now and that's partly due to the film stocks of the time but also Hitchcock's famous control. He constructed everything very carefully."

This film, of course, is not a fiction, it's based on documented fact. But its subject is still Hollywood, which demands a little more than a straight documentary take. "It's an interesting one," says Jarrold. "It's real and based on research but it's also about the dream factory and people filming scenes about characters playing different characters. It's also about how he's manipulating her. So you are playing on different levels."

The result was "quite a rich, contrasty look which felt sympathetic to the period." The Birds and Marnie, the Hitchcock films that Hedren starred in, were obvious stylistic starting points. But also Vertigo "had a parallel with the strange, highly romantic obsession that James Stewart has. We were trying to create the world of Hollywood and the studio system and to some extent the glamour of it but also the darkness as well."

The film was shot in South Africa "which proved a brilliant solution because of the climate and the blue skies. And we found locations that match almost exactly Bodega Bay" where The Birds was shot.

A piece of luck was also had for the studio shots. The crew found the 3Arts Centre, an old studio that's now used infrequently "and hasn't been updated for many years. So it was virtually perfect with its corridors and cable system and curtains. Nothing had been touched for years. It was a huge space so we managed to shoot a lot of stuff there" including using other rooms for Hitchcock's office and Tippi's dressing room.

The shoot itself lasted four weeks, squeezed over Christmas due to the filming commitments of the two headliners. Shooting time was also squeezed by applying Toby Jones' extensive prosthetics each day and costume changes for Sienna Miller.

The other challenge was for Toby Jones not to end up doing an impression of Hitchcock. And his performance, says Jarrold "is very much not that. Toby just captures a certain spirit of the man which is everything from the humour to the cruelty of him." But, says Jarrold, the accuracy of the portrayal was often confusing on set. "When Toby was on set he did feel like the director. When he said cut the clapper loader from my crew would walk into shot thinking the shot had ended." The best tribute an actor could have.

A 1x90 film which tells the story of Hitchcock’s obsessive relationship with The Birds star, Tippi Hedren played by Sienna Miller. Hitchcock was at the height of his powers when, in 1962, he chose an unknown fashion model to star in The Birds. But as he sculpted Tippi Hedren into the perfect Hitchcock blonde, he became obsessed with winning her love.
Toby Jones (Alfred Hitchcock); Sienna Miller (Tippi Hedren); Imelda Staunton (Alma Hitchcock); Penelope Wilton (Peggy Robertson)
Production company
Wall to Wall
Gwyneth Hughes
Executive producers
Leanne Klein for Wall 
to Wall and Lucy Richer at the BBC
Commissioned by
Janice Hadlow, 
Ben Stephenson
Amanda Jenks
Julian Jarrold
John Pardue
Production designer
Darryl Hammer
Andrew Hulme
Tim Waller
Philip Miller
Arri Alexa

Posted 25 July 2012 by Jon Creamer

Interview: Sebastian Scott

Princess Productions’ co-founder Sebastian Scott tells Jon Creamer why, after a career break and a trip to Harvard, he’s now in the business of backing indies, not running them.

It's been over two years since Sebastian Scott left Princess Productions, the largely entertainment based indie he founded in 1996 with Henrietta Conrad. And it's a period in which he's mostly stayed away from the TV business.

But he's now begun a return to the indie world, although this time helping others to start up and run their own companies through his 'production hub' Predictable Media.

So far, he's backed ex-Princess producer Lucas Green's entertainment indie Superhero TV (that sees its primetime series Let's Get Gold, a co-pro with Thames, launch on ITV1 this month) as well as DJ/presenter Richard Bacon's new factual entertainment indie, Mox and Richard Ackerman's comedy indie, Room 414. He's also soon to announce a new gameshow indie that will also come under the Predictable Media umbrella.

His involvement in these start-ups is firstly financial but, he says, he'll also invest his "time and experience in helping them formulate shows and in deciding where they should be pitched, how they should be pitched and who they should be pitched to," although his involvement will vary "from company to company and from show to show because obviously I have much greater knowledge of some kinds of shows than others."

And he's keen to stress that the start-ups he backs will be well and truly run by the mds of those companies. "Really it's about those mds and the decisions they make and what they want to do, not what I want to do. What I will be doing is finding other companies to back and helping support their growth. It is about them and not me. I'd hate for them to read this and think I was taking the credit for what they're doing."

It's a light touch idea and a relatively small and organic set up compared to the one he left at Princess. That company, of course, was bought out by Liz Murdoch's Shine Group in 2007 for roughly £20m. So did he discover that a super indie wasn't where he wanted to be? He says not, "Shine is a fantastic group and Liz Murdoch is inspirational." He left because "I was in a privileged enough position to be able to say, 'I want to take some time off and go and learn some other skills.'" That time away from TV involved, along with a Kilimanjaro climb, taking positions on other company boards and a stint at the Telegraph Media Group. But most importantly it involved a "transformational" stint on the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard. "There are lots of wonderful things about running your own company but you're not really learning about how other people manage their companies. You end up running a company with 300 staff and you've had no management training at all. You've got there because you're good at having ideas and making things and then you've got to change from the person who's very good at making things to someone very good at managing people and I recognised that I would like some more help in making that transformation."

And it was while at Harvard he decided that he "really loved TV and ideas and I was quite good at it, so why didn't I find a way to go back which I would find energising and exciting?" Hence Predictable, and eventually a shared office in Shoreditch and a "world of Oyster cards, not drivers. It's fun getting right back into the beginning of something again. It gives you an energy and excitement. You realise there are loads of things you've forgotten and it's quite fun relearning those things."

He says that while the Predictable indies will have autonomy, the idea is for them to be greater than the sum of their parts. All the indies will share central services, production management, financial services, legal services "and at the moment we share a photocopier and a fax machine." But, more importantly, "we share knowledge and ideas. We come and see each others' pilots, everybody contributes to each others' pitches and we get together regularly to discuss where we feel the channels are."

That mutual support will come from the structure of the ownership, he says. "All the companies have some ownership of Predictable and Predictable has some ownership of all the companies. You need to make compensation match behaviour." And this will ensure each indie stays "on brand" too "so you don't confuse the market."

When asked about the ultimate ambition for the company, he says it's simply to "make all these little companies successful companies in their own right. It's only really been going properly for three months so it's a bit early to say." But, he says, it would be great in years to come "if we're all still sharing an office and we all had a floor each and returning series and all wanted to continue working together."

Posted 11 July 2012 by Jon Creamer

Sky One's Sinbad: Behind the scenes

Impossible Pictures’ creative director Tim Haines tells Jon Creamer about creating and producing Sinbad, a new 12-part Sky One adventure series of almost mythical proportions

A glossy, action packed update on the Sinbad legend was never going to be an easy quest.

As Impossible's creative director Tim Haines explains, the 12x60-minute Sky One show is a TV drama that requires "period costume, action, vfx - all these things. There was no part of this that we didn't have to worry about. If you're doing a contemporary show you don't have to worry about costume, if you're doing a purely romantic show you don't have to worry about action. There was nowhere to hide."

The first episode TXs early this month but its genesis occurred back in the mists of time, when Stuart Murphy first took over at Sky and went on the lookout for big, bold dramas for the channel. "Stuart Murphy wanted a family, 12A show for Sky," says Haines. He also wanted a 'branded' idea "but the problem is that any big brand in that 12A area is going to be a Hollywood movie. You just can't get hold of a Harry Potter."

But there are other 'big brand' stories and legendary characters and the BBC had shown the way with Robin Hood and Merlin. "But we were looking for something that gives you a bit of licence to be exotic and ambitious and Sinbad fitted the bill very well," says Haines. And although in recent decades the Sinbad legend was dominated by the Harryhausen films of the 70s "and also a comedic, curly shoe feel," this Sinbad had to feel real and visceral and the character one the audience could understand. "We all agreed the character is modern although he lives in eighth century Basra - he's a young man that the audience can identify with, not one constantly worried about his faith. That would have been a very difficult thing to get across."

The tone that was asked of lead writer Jack Lothian was a "blend of action, emotion and wit which is really tricky." But something a bit more visceral than Pirates of the Caribbean. "I adore it but it's a little bit slapstick. I mean wit like Disney's Avengers - witty lines but there's got to be true jeopardy and people do die."

It also had to feel big. And a funding model that consisted of Sky along with BBC Worldwide and tax breaks meant that on the plus side there was just "one editorial lead," but on the downside there was "no slack in the system at all." So building Sinbad's world from scratch wasn't an option.

Which is where Malta came in. "The beauty of Malta other than it having a very useful coastline is that it has an endless supply of slightly crumbling buildings," says Haines. "And in digital terms it's very easy to change the distance stuff and put in digital extensions. It's the mid ground stuff that's difficult." And the mid ground was in plentiful supply. The top half of a boat was also built next to a water tank (after all, Sinbad has to travel) and a semi permanent set was created inside an old fort "which gave us lots of corridors, and stone rooms."

The other essential element of Sinbad is, of course, the magical. Although the action had to be visceral and real, Sinbad does encounter sorcerers and monsters along the way. But says Haines, the 'magical' elements had to be kept under strict control. Villains with magical powers had to have limits to their powers or it's impossible for Sinbad to take them on. The beasts and monsters, created by The Mill, also had to be tied to certain rules. "The logic is that it's real but occasionally magic happens. The monsters are quite elemental. They are connected to the emotions of the characters and the elements of the place - salt, water, shadows etc. They feel a bit more organic. For instance, in the land of the dead the creatures are of rock, very much of the place. We always asked 'what is the reason for the beast?'"

And despite the show's long initial run, there was very little economy of scale when it came to the vfx. "I'd love to say yes but being honest, not much. As you move on you get more ambitious. You'd love it if everything was used or reconfigured each time but pretty soon people will spot that and then you're not delivering on your promise. Everyone on the team wants it to be new and different each episode so we have found it very difficult to do bottle episodes." Maybe in Sinbad's next adventure.

Primeval producer Impossible Pictures' Sinbad is a 12x60-minute Sunday teatime adventure series for Sky One. It's billed as a 21st century take on the classic eighth century hero and stars newcomer Elliot Knight alongside Naveen Andrews, Sophie Okonedo and Timothy Spall.

Producers Tim Haines, Sophie Gardiner and Andrew Woodhead for Impossible Pictures and Elwen Rowlands for Sky
Directors Andy Wilson, Brian Grant, Colin Teague , Marisol Torres , Michael Offer
DoPs Gavin Finney, Peter Sinclair, Fabian Wagner, Jean Philippe Gossart
Writers Jack Lothian, James Dormer, Harriet Warner, Steve Thompson, Jack Thorne, Richard Kurti , Bev Doyle
Production designer Martyn John
Costume designer Phoebe de Gaye
Make-up/hair Jacqueline Fowler
Editors Andrew MacRitchie, John Richards, Kate Evans, Mike Jones
Post producer Tim Bradley
VFX The Mill
Cameras Arri Alexa

Posted 04 July 2012 by Jon Creamer
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