|01 August 2010
Televisual's third production management survey reveals all about the likes and dislikes of UK programme makers, from cameras and editing kit through to working conditions
Welcome to Televisual’s third Production Management survey. Our annual survey of the production community, it has two distinct aims. Firstly, it takes the temperature of the sector itself, revealing how business is at the coal face of production and what production teams most like – and dislike – about their jobs. Secondly, it rounds up the kit and companies most popular with programme makers in the UK.
Last month, we asked hundreds of production staff – production managers, heads of production, assistant producers, directors, producers, series producers, exec producers and company directors – to tell us which camera formats, editing kit and post houses they were using on their shows. And to tell us about their job satisfaction and how easy or difficult it was to find work at the moment.
Why were we interested? Well, at a time of unparalleled and often confusing technological and economic change within production, we thought it would be useful to report on the realities of working life in production and to make sense of the kind of kit that most people are investing in.
Life in production
There have been plenty of reports recently to suggest that confidence has returned to the TV industry on the back of rising ad revenues. All3Media chief executive Steve Morrison, for example, was quoted recently as saying that there had been a “complete change in economic circumstances” in recent months and that conditions had improved markedly in the commissioning market.
Certainly, Televisual’s production management survey confirms that there has been a very slight uptick. Asked what it was like to find work and/or commissions at the moment, the most standard response was “difficult” with a few respondents saying that it had been a lean start to the year but it was getting busier.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming impression from the survey is of the huge problems that many are having in finding work. The words “difficult” and “tough” crop up constantly. One production manager commented: “I had three weeks out of work earlier this year which is the first time that I have been without work in 10 years. It seemed that no one had commissions. Now I’m in work again so am okay, but I know a lot of good PMs who should be snapped up but aren’t because there are no productions out there.” A producer, meanwhile, comments that he has “never known it to be so hard,” a point echoed by another producer who describes 2010 as “the worst time I remember.”
Tellingly, those in work aren’t taking it for granted. “Work is difficult unless you have been around for a long time like me” says one production manager. “I am lucky to have a full time position currently – it’s tough out there for freelancers,” replies another production manager. This sense of good fortune to have a job in the current climate shines through in the responses. “I’ve been very lucky – I covered someone’s maternity leave and then ended up with a year’s contract,” says a production manager.
Those in jobs also say they are working much harder as budgets are trimmed. “I feel I have the same amount of work. But I have had to bring my rate down and am expected to cover the role of director prior to shoot to keep costs down,” says one producer.
And people are spending a lot of time trying to find money to make up budgets. “The work is there, but the budgets are extremely tight,” says one producer. “It’s OK to find commissions, but it’s incredibly hard to get them funded,” complains a director of production. There’s also a very strong sense of producers looking outside the UK market to commissions from abroad. “It hasn’t been difficult for me but I know many people who are out of work,” replies another producer, adding that, “It’s easier to find projects outside the UK now.”
Enjoying the job
Despite the difficult climate, there’s an overwhelming sense from the survey that many people working in production enjoy their jobs.
The variety of the job is perhaps the number one reason for job satisfaction. “There’s a different challenge every time,” says one producer. Another producer adds: “It’s travelling to new places and meeting new people,” while an assistant producer enjoys “talking to contributors, finding out new things, going on a shoot and learning, learning, learning all the time!”
Secondly, it’s the creativity of the job. One producer enjoys the “creative outlet” that production affords her, while an exec producer likes “making high quality programmes that people seem to enjoy.” Says another producer: “It’s about finding a great story, getting the idea commissioned and being able to spend time researching and immersing myself in it. Then working how to present it to a large audience.” Many others cite the autonomy, flexibility, travel or creating and developing client relationships as their best bits of the jobs.
Naturally, there’s a downside to all this job satisfaction. And production staff aren’t afraid to vent their frustrations. Fellow workers can be a particular dislike, with numerous complaints about “bolshie team members”, “difficult people”, “inexperienced people with too much arrogance” or “people who think they know it all”.
Perhaps the most consistent complaint, however, is around the work/life balance of working in production. The long hours are picked up by many staff. One series producer complains of the “unsocial hours, really long days and sitting in airports.” A production manager dislikes “never getting to leave the office and being called throughout the night.”
“The budgets are too tight, the schedules are daft, the working hours are daft,” says one production manager. All this makes the job stressful, report many production staff.
And besides, there’s no job security for many freelance workers. “Never knowing where the next job will come from” and the “unpredictability” and “uncertainty” of work add to the pressure. One director simply comments: “There’s unrelenting pressure to keep work coming in.” Even when they get work, many freelancers complain of having to chase for the money they are owed. Those who hold the purse strings also admit pangs of conscience. “Having to be tight with money and refuse to pay people’s full rates,” is a specific gripe of one production manager.
Nagging at the back of many minds is a concern about the quality of the programmes they are working on. “It’s long hours and stressful, but for no end product that is of any real use to man or beast,” says one producer. Then of course there are the boring bits. A producer dislikes “mundane post production tasks, reconciling expenses, tying up all loose ends.” And the technical side of production is daunting for many. One line producer reveals his dislike of “anything too technical that I don’t understand 100% - usually to do with the latest cameras or post production facilities.”
Camera formats: what’s popular?
For the first time, standard definition formats are no longer market leaders. Two years ago, some 70% of respondents said they used DigiBeta for their productions, while 68% said they used DV. This has fallen to 49% for DigiBeta and 51% for DV. They remain industry workhorses, but they are clearly in decline.
After years of talk, HD has now taken over. Sony’s HDCAM is now the industry’s most popular format, with 54% saying they currently use it, while 46% use the more cost efficient HDV. Our survey results also show the remarkably swift market penetration of the affordable Canon 5d/7d with 27% of respondents saying they currently use it, up from just 10% last year. Then comes the tapeless XDCAM HD with 27% of the vote. Sony’s XDCAM EX and Panasonic’s P2 have also increased in popularity, proving that tapeless formats are making inroads into production. The survey also shows the high-end Red camera has consolidated its popularity in 2010 too, with just over 16% of respondents saying they used it, up from 5% two years ago.
Camera formats: what determines choice?
The number one reason influencing the choice of camera format is picture quality, according to our survey. On a scale of one to five in terms of importance, with five the most important, 58% said it was the most important factor. Cost, though, is a key factor in their decision – it’s the second most important reason for which camera format they choose. This is just ahead of broadcaster instruction. Ease of use, portability, ease of ingest into post-production are also important factors in the choice of format. Interestingly, manufacture reputation is not seen as terribly important – suggesting that users are prepared to look beyond brand names for kit that adequately serves their needs.
Post: which editing systems are used?
We asked respondents to reveal which editing systems they used most often. The most commonly used in our survey sample was Avid’s Media Composer, with 54% saying they used it. Next up was Apple’s Final Cut Pro, on 48%. The next three places were taken up with Avid systems – Symphony Nitris, DS Nitris and Xpress. The Avid family was followed up by Autodesk’s Smoke, Adobe’s Premiere, Quantel’s eQ and Grass Valley’s Edius.
Post: what determines choice?
We asked respondents to rank the criteria they used to choose a post house, including cost, talent, location, range of services, support, reputation and relationship. Of course, a whole variety of reasons come into play when deciding on a post house. But the main factors that determine the choice is both cost and whether or not a client has an existing relationship with the facility. From there, the main other criteria are talent then support, reputation and range of services. Location is rated as the least important.
Post: which post houses do you use?
Our survey asked all respondents to name the three post houses they used the most. In all, over 50 individual post houses of all sizes were mentioned.
By dint of their size as much as the quality of their work, three post houses dominated the rankings. Envy, which now has three separate buildings across London, came top of the rankings. Next up was The Farm and then Evolutions. These three were followed by The Mill, MPC, Molinare, Splice, Storm HD and The Station.
Many thanks to all the Televisual readers who took part in the survey. We promised an iPod nano to one participant, picked at random from all the replies. The winner is production manager Karen Hunt, who works at True North on Dick & Dom Go Wild and Animal 24/7.