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Lenny Henry: his Bafta Television Lecture in full

Here's the full transcript of the annual Bafta Television Lecture, which was given last night by actor and comedian Lenny Henry.

In the speech, he called for new legislation to reverse the decline in black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people working in the UK television industry, which he said had fallen by 30.9% between 2006 and 2012.


"Thank you, thank you. My Lords, Ladies, gathered members of the media and my fellow members of BAFTA. My name, as John said, is Lenny Henry - I’m an actor, writer, comedian and producer. In 2008 I was asked to make a speech at the Royal Television Society. My talk covered the history of ethnic minorities in British Television, the story of my own personal journey in the business, and I put forward some suggestions as to how we might make the representation of ethnic minorities a little fairer. At the talk’s conclusion I said, “I hope that things will now change and that I don’t have to come back and repeat myself in another five or six years time.”

Yeah. It’s good to be back people.

I’d just like to give you the background on how this second speech came about. Last year, I watched the BAFTA Awards on TV, and the next evening I went along to the Sony Radio Awards. There I was, going up the red carpet looking forward to a glass of Prosecco and a miniature sausage roll, when this journalist stuck a microphone in my face and asked if I thought the BAFTAs were “a bit vanilla.”

And I went into this riff - like I was in my pyjamas at home, in a gallows humour style about how they had Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sanjeev Bhaskar and David Harewood presenting awards, but there were no Blacks or Asians collecting prizes because it seemed to me there hadn’t been any significant Black or Asian projects made that year. We hadn’t been given the opportunity to write or make or be in anything so we weren’t winning anything. I ran my mouth off, basically, said something like, “it’s gonna be a brand new show, ‘It’ll Be All White On The Night’”. And this was before I’d had the Prosecco.

Next day it was in all the papers, I was getting phone calls, I had to ring BAFTA and say, “BAFTA, I love you guys. No, I think you do a great job. No please don’t stop sending the free movies. I’ve got a deal with the newsagent on the corner. If we could figure out how to stop that caption ‘Property of Bafta” appearing every ten minutes we’d be billionaires.” That, Ladies and Gentlemen, was my call to action. BAFTA, it's all your fault. You are to blame.

So, once again, I’m here today to make a speech about diversity in the British Film and TV industry. I also want to make some observations about my own journey in the business so far, and weigh in with some ideas on how we could and should change things for the future. For those of you who don’t know, and by the way, how many people here weren’t alive in 1975? [Murmurs from audience] Dear God. Back then I got my TV break, as John Willis said, via a show called New Faces. It had an audience of about 16million people every week; it launched people like Victoria Wood. It was kind of like a Britain’s Got Talent for comedians and variety performers, but without Simon Cowell.

So before I begin, let’s look back at what happened since my speech in 2008. Well some broadcasters ‘took action’. They have launched or re-launched various initiatives and training programmes. They created new training schemes for ‘the yout’ from underprivileged backgrounds to enter the industry. They’ve run senior mentoring schemes to ‘help people from diverse backgrounds’ break through the glass ceiling. They’ve even invested in extra monitoring of the problem.

Now I love trainee schemes. I love mentoring. Haven’t you watched every Hollywood buddy police movie? The young whippersnapper cop is teamed up with the older, wiser, white-haired mentor who’s seen it all, done it all and shoots three gangsters every time he goes for coffee and a bagel. We love mentors. I’ve had many over the years. Now there’s been Robin Nash, Jim Moir, Paul Jackson, Geoff Posner, Peter Bennett-Jones, Robert Luff… These people all helped to shape my career at various stages of my life and I’m deeply grateful to them, from my heart I really am. Although where those guys were when I was in the Black and White Minstrels for five years, I’ll never know.

I also love increased monitoring, as that’s how I can tell you the stats and figures that reveal that since my last speech in 2008, despite all those mentoring and training programmes, despite these easy to roll-out solutions, the fact is the situation has deteriorated, badly. Between 2006 and 2012, the number of BAME’s working in the UK TV industry has declined by 30.9%. Creative Skillset conducted a census that shows quite clearly that Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in the creative industries in 2012 was just 5.4% - its lowest point since they started taking the census. That’s an appalling percentage - more so because the majority of our industry is still based in and around London, right here, where there’s a BAME population of 40%.

Want some more evidence? Here’s another rocket-propelled statistical grenade for you. In the last three years the total number of BAME people in the industry has fallen by 2,000 while the industry as a whole has grown by over 4,000. Or to put it another way - for every black and Asian person who lost their job, more than two white people were employed.

And since 2008 I’ve noticed another worrying trend. Our most talented BAME actors are increasingly frustrated, and they have to go to America to succeed. You know who I’m talking about. David Oyelowo in The Help and The Butler. Idris Elba in Long Walk To Freedom, Prometheus and The Wire. Thandie Newton in Crash, Mission: Impossible. Chewitel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave; he was good in American Gangster too. David Harewood in Homeland. Lennie James in The Walking Dead and Jericho. Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ladies and Gentlemen, our first Black British female Oscar nominee for Secrets & Lies had to go stateside to find work in Without A Trace. Archie Panjabi of course in The Good Wife. All achieved a measure of success here but were frustrated at the lack of opportunity in the UK.

This kind of exodus, this kind of exodus has been happening for a while. I’m going to read an excerpt from a letter now. It refers to the lack of opportunity and prejudice towards minority actors in Britain, and the impetus to go where one is wanted as opposed to the alternative. So, forgive me as I read this.

It says, “I at present enjoy a popularity equal to that of Mr. Edmund Kean in his heyday in England. I have more offers of engagement than I can possibly attend to or fulfil and on the terms of my own dictation, therefore I need not tell you that I have not the slightest idea of returning to England for at least two years, if then, should God spare my life. I have already had five offers from Parisian theatres. Here an actor is estimated according to his ability, and they the artistes are gentlemen generally, and received and treated as such by the public.” This letter was written on March 11th by the black classical actor Ira Aldridge… in 1853. Imagine if he’d had to cope with whoever casts Midsomer Murders. He’d have topped himself.

Black British Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen –damn, that sounded good, I’m gonna say that again. Black British Oscar… and BAFTA-winning filmmaker, Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years A Slave, has had huge success in the UK and the states with that film and Shame and Hunger. He has been fortunate to have had the backing of Film4, and I’m delighted he has chosen to return to the UK to direct a TV series set in West London, which is good news for us, both as a viewing public and as a workforce who want to be involved with something that just might compete with other high-end drama come BAFTA time.

My point is, we are often told that BAME don’t have the marquee value or star power to drive a feature or long-running series. That’s what we’re told. These performers have demonstrated that this is no longer the case. I don’t want to be too much of a downer – there’s been some change. Idris Elba came back, didn’t he, to make Luther. Yeah boy. A crime series set in a London-like metropolis. Idris plays the title role - an intellectual, troubled, maverick cop who has no black friends or family. [Audience laughter] Not at all, none. Have you seen this? He never has any black mates. You never see him talking to his Uncle Festus or whatever his name is? He’s never down Jerk City having a curry goat and rice with his bredrens. You never see Luther with black people, what’s going on? And he never changes his clothes, what’s that all about? It’s a great show.

Corrie’s BAME presence has increased in the last few years too, but let’s face it, they had to do something didn’t they? For far too long Coronation Street was the only street in the North of England with a corner shop owned by a white family. Indian families’ would be watching at home going, “these people, they’ve taken all our jobs. You can’t go in a post office these days without seeing a white face behind the counter. Something has to change!”

Even Emmerdale had Will Jonson, right on Will, playing Dominic Andrews. He was on Emmerdale Farm, check it out man. A black mechanic and single father, Dominic Andrews has had to cope with school bullying, one night stands, drug deals, teenage pregnancy, abortion and gunshot wounds… and that was just in his first episode. 

But we shouldn’t just look at onscreen portrayal, we should check out what’s happening behind the camera. Now a black former-BBC executive, who’s recently formed his own consultancy company playfully describes the workforce behind the camera as ‘the makers and the pickers’. The makers, whether employees of the broadcaster or indies, pitch their ideas to the pickers who decide what gets made, which writers are in vogue, which actors get cast in the lead role, and which presenters front the show. When it comes to the makers I’ve found BAME representation patchy at best in production, and as far as craft is concerned – you know, cameras, lights, sound, studio crews, costume, makeup etc. - I rarely if ever see a black or Asian face. But when it comes to the pickers, the channel controllers and heads of commissioning who oversee budgets and make the key decisions, here’s what it looks like.

[Pictures on-screen]

How can this be in 2014, and what can we do about it?

Let’s look at TV. Here’s a selection of popular dramas and comedies in recent years. This is what’s going on in the UK. Southcliffe. Yeah, I enjoyed that, that guy shooting people in that West Country village. Of course if it had been in The Ends people would have shot back, right? Broadchurch – mixed race boyfriend of sister of deceased, thank you very much for putting that in there, so there was somebody in there. The Fall was set in Northern Ireland which is rarely seen on TV, Northern Ireland drama, so I guess that was cool. Miranda. I like Miranda, there she is. Mrs Brown’s Boys. The Irish, an ethnic minority? A transvestite, I guess, so that’s a… Discuss. The evolution of BAME involvement in British TV seems to lurch one step forward and two steps back - a bit like John Sergeant on Strictly Come Dancing, except he had a job at the end of it.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic - this is what’s going down. Scandal. “hold it down.” Grey’s Anatomy. Boardwalk Empire. Breaking Bad. Parks and Recreation. True Blood, “Sookie. Sookie.” New Girl. Elementary, which is their version of Sherlock, I guess. Has the Korean actress Lucy Liu from Kill Bill and Charlie’s Angels playing Doctor Watson. Ooh, very bold decision. There’s as much chance of that happening here - as seeing Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson on Mr and Mrs, isn’t there? Could you imagine that here? That’s never gonna happen. So how come Americans manage this almost seamless integration in front of the cameras, whilst here in the UK we find it so difficult?

It’s because they really invest and nurture BAME talent behind the scenes. It’s no coincidence that the Head of Casting at ABC/ Disney who produces Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and Modern Family is Keli Lee, an Asian-American woman with a vested interest in promoting minority talent. Or that African-American writers like Shonda Rimes are able to write such brilliant three-dimensional characters; whatever race, creed, or colour. Or gender.

Talking of America, it was fifty years ago that Martin Luther King Jnr. made a speech about how America needed to keep to the promise that it made in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, a promise that America was breaking at the time. In that speech Martin Luther King “Had a Dream”. He dreamt that one day America would fulfil its promise. He dreamt that sons of former slaves and slave owners would sit around a table together. He dreamt that his children would be judged not by the colour of their skin but by their character. That black boys and black girls would join hands with white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. You all know the speech. I don’t need to go on. It was his way of holding America to account.

Here in the UK we have the BBC and they too have promises in their Charter. Not quite the Declaration of Independence but promises all the same. The BBC Charter promises to “represent the UK, its nations, regions and communities.” They’ve made a pledge to the people of the UK - the license-fee payers - that they will represent them. Well, BAME’s are an integral part of Great Britain’s communities, we deserve to be represented too.

And just like Martin Luther King Jnr., I want to hold our leaders to account.  But I don’t just have a dream Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a screen. I have a screen where great programmes are produced by the multi-cultural many, as opposed to the mono-cultural elite. I have a screen. I have a screen where the actors of the future are cast not by the colour of their skin, but by their talent alone. I have a screen. I have a screen where the stories in our cinemas and on our TVs will reflect the wealth and variety of experience of all our communities, not just some. I have a screen today, can I get a hallelujah?

Audience: Hallelujah.

LH: Now, the thing is… White people down here, “Hallelujah”, right on, Simon, right on. The thing is, we won’t achieve this screen by launching yet another round of training and mentoring initiatives. We need a different solution. So I’ve looked around and tried to find things that have worked in the past, and the answer is right here, in the UK.

Back in 2003, the BBC realised it had a problem, a representational problem. The nations and regions were not getting a look in. According to the BBC’s Annual Report only 3.7% of core programming budget was being spent in Scotland, despite Scotland having around 9% of the UK population. If you looked at the network programmes the BBC produced, 91% of them were being made in and around London. 91%.

So the BBC decided that if it was going to keep its promise in the charter, things needed to change. Now, they didn’t change things by going to local schools in Glasgow and setting up new entrants schemes for the ‘yout dem’. They didn’t give all their staff in Wales mentors - although that could make a good buddy movie, note to self. And finally, they didn’t think they could solve the problem just by increasing monitoring.

No. What they did was structural. First they said they would spend 50% of their money outside of the M25; and for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland they went further, promising them that the proportion of programme spend in each nation, would at least match that nation’s percentage of the UK population. They set firm targets and even set quotas of a minimum amount of programmes they were going to commission from each nation and region. And the result, like Sally Berkow’s alleged drinks bill, is spectacular.

Since 2003 there’s been a massive increase of programmes made outside the M25. There has been a 400% increase in the number of network programmes produced in the English regions. By 2016 over half of network spend will be made out of London. In just two years’ time the amount of network spend in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should accurately reflect the size of the population there. Now that’s an amazing turnaround in increasing regional diversity. It has completely revolutionised the broadcasting landscape. But I think there is another part of the charter promise to be fulfilled. The promise was to represent the UK’s nations, regions and communities. The BBC has kept its promise for the nations and regions but what about communities? More precisely, the BAME communities?

I think they can keep this promise by taking exactly the same approach they took to increasing the output of nations and regions. And that means ring-fencing money specifically for BAME productions. For the nations and regions they set quotas, but I know people don’t like the word ‘quota’, so let’s say ‘ring-fenced money’. Okay, ring-fenced money. If license fee-payers’ money isn’t spent, it will be clear in the Annual Report for each channel. But you know what, I’ve got a feeling people would quickly discover good programmes to spend the money on. But that’s also why it involves appointing a couple of ‘pickers and deciders’, specific commissioners to hunt out internal and external BAME productions to commission.

But what is a BAME production I hear you ask yourself. I’m gonna tell you. Currently Ofcom has three criteria to decide if a production qualifies as coming from the nations or the regions, okay. First, the production company must have a substantive business and production based in the UK outside the M25. Second, at least 70% of the production budget must be spent in the UK outside the M25. And third, at least 50% of the production talent (i.e. not on-screen talent) by cost must have their usual place of employment in the UK outside the M25. A production needs to meet two out of the three to qualify. I believe these criteria can be easily adapted to define a BAME production in the following ways:

A) At least 50% of the production talent (i.e. not on-screen talent) by cost must be Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic. The production staff will be self-declaring about their ethnicity - self-declaration is a common principle in both police, health and other government monitoring of BAME statistics.

B) The production company must be 30% BAME controlled, and/or 30% of senior personnel involved in the production in question must be BAME.

And C) At least 50% of on screen talent by cost must be Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic.

Productions should meet two of these three to qualify.

Now there are more details and copies of this proposal which you'll receive on your way out for you to analyse and hopefully build on. This proposal has been months in the making, drafted by myself and a number of key BAME industry figures, talent drawn from both sides of the camera. We believe everyone stands to gain from this proposal. Everyone. Both culturally and commercially, and if they don’t like it we’re happy to consider their alternatives.

But let’s not just focus on the BBC. This is a problem and solution that relates to the entire industry. All of us. All the major broadcasters have made a promise to BAME people. They’ve signed up to the Creative Diversity Pledge. All except for Channel 5, but let’s not go there. The Creative Diversity Network made a pledge in 2009 in which people signed up to:

• Recruit fairly and from as wide a base as possible and encouraging industry entrants and production staff from diverse backgrounds.
• Encourage diversity in output.
• Encourage diversity at senior decision-making levels.

Like the BBC, the other broadcasters have not been that good at keeping their promises to the BAME communities, but like the BBC, they have kept their promises to represent the nations and regions. Last year half of all Channel 4’s programmes were produced out of London. Half. And Channel 4 spent two fifths of all its money outside London. This isn’t just Shameless or Hollyoaks, this was achieved after Ofcom set specific targets for Channel 4 to meet its license requirement, targets that it has hugely exceeded now.

So what’s the point of all this then? Does this screen, your screen really matter? I put it to you Ladies and Gentlemen, that it does. For many people around the world, the perception of the United Kingdom is determined by our TV exports. Whenever I’m in America, New York or somewhere, and I tell them I’m on TV, they say, “Are you the new Jazz singer in Downton Abbey?” I say, “no, I’m one of the servants working so far below stairs, by the time I get to the house the show’s finished.”

Team GB’s global image should be a fair and honest reflection of our society, not a fictionalised version of who we are. It’s a misrepresentation not to include BAME as major contributors in the television and film industry.  There is a wealth of talent to be tapped. There are writers, producers, executive producers, directors, script editors, skilled technicians who just want to work. When it comes down to it, all we’re asking - is for the broadcasters to keep the promises they have already made to Britain’s communities, either through their charters, license agreements, or when they made the CDN pledge. Right now it feels there are no consequences when promises are not kept. That’s why I’m delighted that the Culture Secretary, Ed Vaizey, has taken such an interest in this area and has promised to make them accountable for delivering on these pledges. Good work, and not before time.

For myself, well I love collaborating, working with new writers and new writing, and I look forward to the challenge of making new high-end drama and comedy to rival the best that’s out there. A bold claim I know, but I did three Jägerbombs and a packet of wine gums before I came on, so you’ll have to excuse me.

Let me leave you now with this quote. It’s from the 3rd of February 2005. Nelson Mandela [coughs], Nelson Mandela, how soon they forget, Nelson Mandela said these words about taking action on world poverty, but this could easily apply to all of us involved in making this great industry more diverse. He said, “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation. Let your greatness blossom.” So why don’t we do that? Every chairman or controller or commissioner or exec in this room? Every H.O.D, production manager and casting director. Every agent. You have it within your power to effect a radical change upon this appalling situation. Let your greatness blossom, and let’s just see how great our generation can be.

Thank you very much for listening, good night."


Posted 18 March 2014 by Tim Dams

Behind the scenes: Live from Space

Live events are now de rigeur for any self respecting TV channel. But Channel 4 takes the trend to a new level (literally) this week, with its Live From Space Season. Produced by Arrow Media, the co-pro with Nat Geo, will culminate with a live two hour broadcast from the International Space Station (ISS) – some 250 miles above Earth.

The season isn’t going to be full of the usual, run of the mill space stories about big rockets or daring landings. The live event will provide viewers with a birds eye view of Earth, which the ISIS orbits every 90 minutes – travelling at 17,500mph. The two supporting films, meanwhile, are classic ob docs that look set to do for astronauts what a series like Coppers did for the police. The docs, for example, are billed as portraits of the day-to-day lives of astronauts and of their back up teams in Houston. 

So we learn how the astronauts sleep, wash and eat in space; how they maintain the ISS; and look at the work and experiments they do while living on the ISS. The difference, of course, is that the cameramen for the live show and the documentaries are the astronauts themselves. Using three Canon XF 305’s, they’ve shot over 20 hours of footage which is being edited together for the pre-recorded films. The cameras will also be used for the live broadcast.

“NASA has never done anything like this before,” says exec producer Sally Dixon, citing “incredible access to the ISS”.

NASA has granted access because it wants to drive awareness of its ongoing work on the ISS, which gets little media attention as it lacks the high octane excitement of space shuttle take offs or the moon landings. As well as airing on C4, Nat Geo is broadcasting the season across its network in 170 countries

Arrow, meanwhile, aims to make a season that’s produced with contemporary TV viewers in mind, and is less corporate than official NASA output. The live show, for example, is presented by The X Factor-host Dermot O’Leary.

For the supporting documentaries, Arrow has encouraged the astronauts to shoot footage like ob doc filmmakers. Instead of speaking direct to camera, in their usual public affairs-like, presenter mode, they’ve been encouraged to let the camera roll. They are filmed as they go about their daily business - while floating in a micro-gravity environment.

And the reality of their lives on board is fascinating: astronauts for example, can’t shower in space so have to wipe themselves clean; when they cut their hair or trim their nails, they have to use scissors attached to a suction hose so the particles don’t float around and get in their eyes; and they have to exercise two hours a day to keep their muscles from wasting away.

Unable to brief the astronauts in person, the Arrow production team has talked to them on the Space Station over the phone – patched into  conference calls to the ISS from their office. Emails are also sent to the astronauts via NASA.  “It’s been incredibly exciting to get phone calls from the the ISS,” says Dixon. “You can’t quite believe that you are speaking to astronauts on the Space Station.”

Astronauts: Living in Space director Janice Sutherland, meanwhile, has also been granted access to the astronauts’ wives, who also help her communicate with the astronauts.

For Sutherland, one of the biggest revelations has been how the astronauts interact with their wives. Communications between the ISS and Earth are good, so they Skype once a week and call every day – usually to talk about everyday matters such as running the house or bringing up their kids.

The production of the live show, meanwhile, will be hugely complex. At any one time, three live video feeds from the ISS will be open for the production team to use. On-board the ISS, there will be live links to astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata. Presenter Dermot O’Leary, meanwhile, will broadcast from mission control itself, with space veteran Mike Massimino. Also taking part are Professor Stephen Hawking and British astronaut Tim Peake.

The show will take in a lap of the planet, which the ISS orbits every 90 minutes. The astronauts will film from the cupola viewing station of the ISS, providing viewers with a guided tour around the Earth, zooming into various landmarks as they spin round the globe.

Half of the show will make use of pre-recorded segments, as it will be night time for part of the planet. The pre-recorded segments will also be used in case cloud cover obscures the view, and also as a back up if the astronauts have to deal with an incident on the ISS.  It’s live television, after all, so the Arrow team need a back up plan just in case things do go wrong. “We’ve got to be prepared,” says Dixon.      

Details
The Live From Space Season is headlined by a two hour live broadcast from the International Space Station (ISS), Lap of the Planet. Two other films will transmit in the season – Astronauts: Living in Space and Astronauts: Houston We Have a Problem.

Executive Producers, Arrow Media

Tom Brisley, Al Berman & Sally Dixon
Director/Producer
Pete Woods
Assistant Producer
Sarah Barker
Live Producer
Sarah Sarkhel
Technical producer
Gayle DePoli
Line Producer
Sean Murphy
Assistant Producers
Sarah Barker, Kate Baller
Researchers
Sacha Thorpe & Dan Wan
Edit Producer
Lucie Ridout
Dir/Prod, Astronauts: Living in Space
Janice Sutherland
Dir/Prod, Astronauts: Houston We Have a Problem
Sid Bennett
Director, Astronauts: Houston We Have a Problem
Pete Woods
Executive producer, C4

David Glover
Executive Producer, National Geographic
Madeleine Carter
   

Posted 12 March 2014 by Tim Dams

Televisual Salary Survey 2014 - what do you earn?

Do you want to know how much people earn in this industry? And what the going rate really is for jobs such as a runner, researcher, producer, editor or director? 



Then please take part in Televisual's 21st pay survey, which helps us compile our annual snapshot of what people earn in TV, commercials, film, corporate and digital media. 



Click here to take part.

The full results will be published in Televisual's April 2014 issue and on televisual.com. 



The survey is completely anonymous. We don't ask your name or company and have no way of tracing who responds. 



So please just click here and follow the questions through (it should take you about 2 minutes).   


Many thanks.


Posted 10 March 2014 by Tim Dams

The challenge of producing indie British films

Despite the UK’s reputation for quality filmmaking, indie production is still a struggle. Here three indie producers talk about the reality of making films in 2014.

By most accounts, times are pretty good for the film industry, with big budget shoots like Star Wars, The Avengers and Antman keeping UK talent and facilities busy in 2014.

The UK is less strong, though, in the smaller scale independent sector. This was a point highlighted by Lord Smith in an update last month to his 2012 Film Policy Review. Smith noted that British independent film’s share of the UK theatrical market has averaged only 6% over the past 12 years, and is also largely dependent on a small number of high grossing titles each year – like The King’s Speech and The Iron Lady.  He said: “Despite the excellence of our independent filmmakers, they still all too often struggle to get their movies financed, distributed and seen.”

With this in mind, Televisual spoke with three of the UK’s leading independent producers – Charles Steel, Damian Jones and Will Clarke – to ask them about the reality of producing indie films in 2014.

Charles Steel, Cowboy Films
Steel runs Cowboy Films with producer partner Alasdair Flind, and between them they have amassed credits including How I Live Now, The Last King of Scotland and Marley as well as TV drama Top Boy.  Even so, it’s taken Steel some six years to approach the finishing line on his latest project, Black Sea. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, the adventure thriller sees Jude Law play the captain of a salvage submarine hunting for gold at the bottom of the Black Sea.

Black Sea was originally conceived by Steel and Macdonald as a low budget, genre television movie for C4. Set in the grimy, claustrophobic world of submarine salvage operators, it was envisaged as the antithesis of blockbusters like The Hunt for Red October. They brought in Dennis Kelly (Utopia) to write the script, which turned out to be strong – strong enough, in fact, that C4 felt it could sit in the theatrical market. So rather than rush the project out as a lo-fi TV drama, Cowboy began developing it as a feature with Film4.

With Macdonald on board, Black Sea was a hot property. MacDonald wanted the film to feel authentic and quintessentially English, so was keen to cast a Brit in the lead role. Jude Law was approached and, keen to take on something different, he boarded very quickly.

Focus Features took worldwide rights to Black Sea, raising finance for the production by pre-selling it widely at Cannes last year. Film4 also provided key financing, and equity finance came from Jim Cochrane and Merve Harzadin.

Reflecting on the time it’s taken to get Black Sea made, Steel says: “You need to have the ability to ride with the time it takes. You just have to have perseverance.”

Cowboy Films comprises five staff in total, but works across television as well. “As a film company, you need some other thing. I don’t know how you survive just doing British film alone.” Steel says that even good producers can’t guarantee that all the disparate elements it takes to make a film – the cast, the script, the director, the financing – will come together at the right time. “Independent film is hard work and tough,” he acknowledges. “Things can be way out of your control.”

The most important factor, he stresses, is getting the “right balance” for a project. You need a good script and a good director - plus a budget that is appropriate for the film, and a strong cast. “Once the balance is right, there is money to be got. It is always hard to produce, yet there is always a way.”

Damian Jones, DJ Films
“It’s always tough producing a film, there’s no two ways about it,” says Damian Jones, whose producer credits include The Iron Lady, Millions, Fast Girls and The History Boys.

“But I also believe that the projects that do get made are the most deserving – the cream rises to the top. There is always a reason why a project doesn’t get made, even if you only realise it in hindsight. It’s normally that the script wasn’t stong enough, or the cast wasn’t good enough, or the director was too expensive, or someone else was doing a similar subject but better.”

Independent producers who want their films to be among the few that are made, must therefore package them accordingly, adds Jones.

Jones’ next film, Belle, is directed by Amma Asante and is about to hit cinemas this spring. The story of a mixed–race girl raised as an aristocratic lady in 18th century England, Belle has taken six years to make and was, says Jones, “a project that everyone turned down.”



The film was originally developed with HBO, then “for a couple of years” with the BFI. Jones, in the meantime, scored with The Iron Lady. “That was some ammunition – people were at least interested to see what I was up to next.”

A key turning point was Bankside coming on as a sales agent. Everything that most potential investors were concerned about – a mixed race lead, an inherently expensive period movie – Bankside felt was a positive. “That was the reason to make it – the film would have something to say as well as ticking all the Jane Austen boxes.” Pinewood then boarded as a backer, as did the BFI film fund. This, plus a number of pre-sales, helped Jones piece the budget together. Jones says the reason it has finally been made at all boils down to his own persistence, along with Amma Asante’s vision, a strong script and an impressive cast.

Although Jones has had success in the film industry, and has a first look deal with Pathe, he stresses the difficulty of creating a production business because “it is so unpredictable.” He adds: “The way I have survived is that I have fortunately been able to make movies every year on different budget levels.” Even so, DJ Films keeps its overhead low. The company is, says Jones, “very much a one man band.” He outsources activities such as accountancy and development on a project by project basis.  “If I had to keep an overhead without a guaranteed income then I wouldn’t be talking to you now.”

Will Clarke, Altitude Films

Will Clarke is making a different kind of film to most British producers. Big Game is very much a commercial, international proposition: starring Samuel L Jackson, it is directed by Jalmari Helander (the Finnish director of Rare Exports), and shot in Bavaria. Jackson plays the US President whose plane is shot down by terrorists. Stranded in the wilderness, he has only a local 13-year-old hunter to help him elude his captors.

Clarke is producing, with Finnish partner Petri Jokiratna’s Subzer,  through his new company Altitude Films, which he set up after selling Optimum Releasing to StudioCanal.

Launched in 2012, Altitude has 14 staff and is primarily a production company, but it also covers sales and distribution. This makes it a very rare beast in the UK film industry – a vertically integrated film business capable of producing, financing and releasing its own films.

Still, with a £13m budget, Altitude can’t produce alone but has teamed up with a host of partners to make Big Game. The ambition from the start, says Clarke, has been to make a high concept picture: with scale, a broad cast and aimed “fairly and squarely at the mainstream.”



Producing a bigger budget film like Big Game is sometimes a little easier than putting together a smaller British feature, says Clarke, “because you have got saleable elements.” The budget has been raised primarily through a mixture of pre-sales and soft money. The fund raising began in Bavaria, where FFF Bayern has a new film fund worth Euros 6m for international shoots. Other financiers include: the Finnish Film Foundation, YLE; Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Visionplus Fund; Bavarian Film Partners; and German Federal Film Fund (DFFF).

Armed with this soft money, Altitude launched Big Game in Cannes last year – pre-selling to 16 countries. The strong presales meant that Altitude could go to American bank Comerica for gap financing, allowing the film to go into production in September.

All along, the sales pitch for the film has stressed that it is “a commercial proposition rather than an arthouse crossover,” says Clarke. The Altitude sales team have emphasised that it is aimed at a broad audience, and is not going to be an 18 rating picture. The casting of Samuel L Jackson, says Clarke, also sent out a clear message that it was “a fun package.”

“Having been a buyer, there are not that many movies in the marketplace that have a sense of fun, a sense of scale and that aren’t overpriced and that have an aspiration to be a commercal hit. Because there aren’t that many of them, it was risk that buyers were prepared to take.” Big Game will be finished this autumn and is set for release next spring. 

This article is taken from the March 2014 issue of Televisual

Posted 26 February 2014 by Tim Dams

Hatfield aims to prove London Live sceptics wrong

Stefano Hatfield (pictured left) has form in proving the sceptics wrong. As editor of thelondonpaper and The Independent spin-off, i, he successfully launched two papers at a time when experts said there was no room for growth in the newspaper business.

The question is: can he do the same in TV? Hatfield is now editorial director of London Live – the local TV service for Londoners that launches on March 31.

There’s been plenty of industry scepticism about the prospects for the new local TV franchises, with naysayers questioning their economic model and quality of programming.

But talking to Hatfield, one suspects that he might be able to pull it off again. London Live is owned by Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of The Evening Standard, so the ability to cross promote the station is huge. The channel has a prominent spot on the EPG – channel 8 on Freeview, 117 on Sky and 159 on Virgin. And it will play into the homes of 9.5m people – who live in one of the most prosperous cities in the world.

That said, London Live has a tiny budget – just £15m a year – for programming and overheads. The money has to pay the salaries of 60 staff, as well as five and half hours of news and current affairs a day, and three hours of new programming. Commissions include Food Junkies from Fresh One, footy tricks show F2 Kicks Off, ob doc Drag Queens of London (8x60”) and shows from YouTube talent, like The T-Boy Show (8x22”). London Live has also acquired shows like Peep Show and Misfits to drive ratings.

Hatfield says the output will be urban and positive. “We are targeting a younger audience and every bit of research we have done says, “Just don’t depress us.” He stresses, though, that London Live will not be “too cool for school” so that it alienates older viewers.

The budget, he acknowledges, is tight. But, compared to other broadcasters, London Live will offer producers the chance to break new talent, be creative and to strike flexible deals. There will also be contributions from journalists at the Standard. “But London Live is not going to be the Evening Standard on TV – it is a bit younger, a bit more urban.”

Posted 18 February 2014 by Tim Dams

Off the red carpet, festivals struggle with data drama

Berlin: The digitisation of the film industry throws up huge technical and logistical for events like the Berlin Film Festival.


Some 95% of the 2500 film screenings during the Festival and at the European Film Market are now digital.

For the first time, the digital screenings at the Berlinale are all being presented in the Digital Cinema Package (DCP) format.

It means the festival now has to manage huge volume of data. The festival says the need for broadband data connections and storage systems has increased hugely. 

Before the Festival, many technical and logistical processes have had to be reconsidered and modified. 

The festival says that seven companies are supporting its digital cinema infrastructure: Colt, EMC, Barco, Dolby, Doremi, DVS and VIDI.

Fibre-optic cable outfit Colt connected all of the Berlinale’s permanent venues with both the main Berlinale Film Office data centre at Potsdamer Platz and the Colt data centre in Berlin. 

It means a bandwidth of 75 Gbit/s is now available for transferring the films around the festival venues.

The festival’s central storage system is supplied by EMC, which has provided an ISILON storage cluster with a total capacity of 400 TB.

Meanwhile, the festival has also had to transcode all the films playing at the Berlinale from very diverse formats into DCPs. DVS has supplied several CLIPSTER postproduction workstations to help speed up the computationally-intense processes.

Moreover, to ensure that the required HD video signals are transferred losslessly between the data centres of the Berlinale and Colt, the firm VIDI has installed an HD-SDI transmission system with four channels.

To supervise all the processes - from testing to transmitting films, managing film keys and monitoring screenings – centrally from the Film Office, the Berlinale is using software developed specifically for this purpose.

Meanwhile, Dolby audio specialists checked the sound systems at the over 50 venues before the Festival opened and adjusted their setups accordingly.

Digital cinema projector firm Barco has provided the Festival with DP2K and DP4K projectors, helping to transform the Berlinale’s temporary venues into modern movie theatres.

 

 

 

Posted 12 February 2014 by Tim Dams

Berlinale: filmmakers cast a worried eye at TV

Berlin: Television used to be something of dirty word at an event like the Berlin Film Festival. 


But now TV drama - once viewed as artistically inferior to film - is increasingly seen as a refuge for embattled independent filmmakers who are struggling to get their films financed.

The talk of this year’s 64th Berlin Film Festival is very much about the difficulties facing the independent film industry.

For sure, this year’s Berlinale has seen a number of strong films playing in official selection – with Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, Yann Demange’s ’71 and Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac all generating strong buzz here. 

There’s also an energetic and highly regarded Talent Campus, a creative gathering for 300 up and coming filmmakers from 79 different countries. Speakers at the Canon sponsored event this year include producer Martha De Laurentiis (Hannibal), DoP Christopher Doyle and Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan. The impressive event proves that there is still no shortage of young talent who want to make their way in independent film.

But the Campus has heard a number of leading filmmakers, including Jordan, speak of the difficulty of getting independent films off the ground.

This was in clear evidence at Berlin’s film sales and financing market, the European Film Market (EFM).

Buyers and sellers complained that the market was slow.

 “The golden age of theatrical movies of our generation was 1995 to 2008, when you could make anything, sell anything. It is now the golden age of television,” Martin Moszkowicz from German distributor Constantin told Variety. 

The UK, for example, is witnessing a boom in television drama production, with recent BFI figures showing that £276m was spend on drama production in the UK between April and December 2013. Over half of this figure came from inward investment shows like Game of Thrones, Outlander and Da Vinci’s Demons. The BFI figures also revealed that the number of independent films being made in the UK had fallen year on year. 

Observers at Berlin’s EFM said that there was a lack of big, quality film projects at the market – and that securing distribution for films in key territories like the US remains difficult.

Others said that there were too many film markets, with EFM sandwiched between last month’s American Film Market and May’s Cannes Film Festival.

Television channels are buying fewer films — and the growth in VOD has not yet compensated for this fall off.

However, Berlin proves that attaching top talent to a project can still make a film fly. The Weinstein Co. is said to have paid $7 million for US rights to The Imitation Game, which sees Benedict Cumberbatch play Alan Turing, who cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park. There was also buyer interest in M. Night Shyamalan’s Labor Of Love, which is expected to see Bruce Willis reteam with the The Sixth Sense director.

 

Posted 12 February 2014 by Tim Dams

Interview: BBC Films' Christine Langan

With Philomena flying the flag at the Oscars, BBC Films’ Christine Langan tells Tim Dams why the unit is so important to British film

Christine Langan will be paying particularly close attention to the Bafta and Oscar ceremonies over the coming weeks. BBC Films has backed three films in contention for the Oscars: Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks and The Invisible Woman. And BBC Films has scooped 11 nominations for the BAFTAs too.

“It’s thrilling for us,” says BBC Film head Langan, who adds that Philomena is a good example of how  BBC Films can make projects happen in the UK. The film “illustrates how our development, money, wherewithal and imagination came into play.”

The project was brought to BBC Films by producer Gabrielle Tana (who’d worked with Langan on Coriolanus), after Steve Coogan’s Baby Cow acquired the rights to Martin Sixsmith’s book. “We all know and love Steve, but it was a major departure for him and it wasn’t that clear what he was going to do with it.” Coogan, she says, wanted to write the screenplay, but didn’t feel he could do it on his own. So Langan suggested working with Jeff Pope, who she had previously collaborated with on Pierrepoint. “I knew if anyone could work with Steve, it would be Jeff. Sure enough they had a bit of a bromance and really hit it off.”

In the same way, BBC Films were instrumental in bringing Judi Dench and director Stephen Frears on to the project. “Once we had Judi involved, the film was a reality. The combination of Steve, Judi and Steven means it is a makeable film.”

Leveraging the BBC brand
Langan sees BBC Films very much as a facilitator – using its contacts, industry knowledge, development skills, money and the BBC brand to help get projects off the ground. The department’s budget is not huge  – it stands at £11m a year, which also covers the overhead for BBC Films’ 13 staff. The unit tries to make 8-10 films a year. As one of the UK’s few major funders, it deals with a large volume of submissions and juggles a huge development slate of “less than 100” projects. “Obviously we want to convert as many of those titles as possible into movies,” she says.

Langan argues that BBC Films development know-how is particularly important to the UK film industry. “Development is absolutely crucial – you live or die by good development.” But it’s a cost that many small indies are unable to afford. “It is all risk money, so very few entities are prepared to do that. And if they are, there are tremendous strings attached.”

Langan won’t reveal how much BBC Films puts into each project it backs. “It varies. I like to keep a bit of a question mark over how much we will put in.” She says it is all about leveraging the BBC Films brand, which can bring “so much value that your financial commitment might not need to be huge.”

Audience focus
She also declines to say how much money the BBC earns from the films that it invests in. But it’s clear that BBC Films doesn’t take aggressive equity positions. “I know there is value for money because of the very good licence terms that we acquire with each of our films. We are getting 90 minutes at well below the relative drama rate and free repeats which you don’t get in comparable dramas.”

Indeed, when thinking about what makes a BBC film, Langan says she is very focused on BBC audiences. “Ultimately our films will go on BBC channels, primarily BBC2, and that is obviously something I take into consideration.”

But it’s difficult to categorise them, she says. “Philomena probably describes really well what we do, but I’m really glad we made Alpha Papa. I was thrilled to have that out this summer, but you won’t hear as much about that at the Baftas and Oscars.”

Indeed, the upcoming slate speaks for itself about the kind of features that Langan’s department backs. Ralph Fiennes’s The Invisible Woman was released last month. Shooting has just begun on comedy Man Up, starring Simon Pegg; Shakespearean comedy Bill, from the team behind Horrible Histories, goes into production this month; Rufus Norris is directing the film version of stage hit London Road; John Crowley is directing an adaptation of Colm Toibin novel Brooklyn; and Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline and Kristen Scott Thomas star in My Old Lady.

Langan says that producing films in the UK remains daunting – but there are causes for optimism. “There’s an amazingly healthy variety of films around this awards season. In America the narrative is that ‘film is back’. There was a lot of pessimism and angst about film, and all sorts of very prestigious producers were saying the only way to tell a story is long form narrative on television.” But equally, she says, there is “something very relieving about going into a narrative where the end is in sight and you are not asked to commit across 15 – 20 hours. I think we have the appetite for both.”

CV
Christine Langan first made her name at Granada producing hit drama Cold Feet. Her first feature was Pierrepoint in 2005, and she also produced the award-winning The Queen.
In September 2006, Langan was appointed executive producer at BBC Films.
In April 2009 she became creative director of the division, overseeing commissioning, development and production.
Recent releases include  Lasse Hallström’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Max and Dania’s StreetDance 2, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, Mike Newell’s Great Expectations, Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre,  James Marsh’s Project Nim, Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet, and John Lee Hancock’s Saving Mr Banks.

Posted 12 February 2014 by Tim Dams
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    Tim Dams is editor of Televisual magazine....
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