With the Sundance Film festival due to commence next week, Moray casts a hopeful eye over some of this year’s entries in an ever-changing documentary landscape.
“The Sundance Film Festival 2010 kicks off next week, the showcase of new dramas and documentaries that remind the US film industry why they went into the business in the first place. It’s also a reminder that there is more to aspire to as a British documentary maker than the patronage of a BBC or Channel Four commissioner.
Among the hundreds of films screened in and around the Festival, the “In Competition” section is where the action is. Only 1 per cent of films submitted to the competition make it to the final competition line-up, and those 58 successful competitors will be watched by every relevant studio producer and executive in the USA.
The ongoing discussion on our Watercooler forum headed ‘Camera Person with Own Kit: £100’ gets to the heart of the worries of thousands of TV freelancers. At first reading, it looks as if the debate is about what is a fair rate for the job. In fact, the real subject is whether the team offering the work, and the people who apply to do it, are working within a professional industry, or one for amateur enthusiasts.
Let us be in no doubt that there is a professional television industry. A 2005 Film Council study noted that the UK’s total TV turnover was £13.4 billion in the previous year, and it has grown over the last four years. Skillset estimates that there are some 75,000 people whose livelihoods directly depend on that turnover for their income, which probably includes you and me.
Film and television-making is not a monopoly controlled by the professionals, any more than baking is controlled by Rank Hovis McDougall. You can bake cakes at home, or to sell at your tea shop but if you were employed to make Mr Kipling’s French Fancies, you would not expect to bake them in your home oven, and you would expect to be paid a sustainable rate in return for your employers’ intention to make a profit from them.
Freelancer David McDougall is a Self-Shooting Producer/ Director with over 10 years experience primarily on documentary films covering a broad spectrum of subjects before heading overseas to the Middle East and SE Asia. Most recently David was shooting a documentary ‘Scholars for Change’ in Burma & Thailand for Thabyay Education Network. Here he shares his experiences while filming in Burma:
Introduction to the shoot you were on
This was one of those serendipitous and worthwhile jobs that came out of nowhere. After two years of working as a P/D in the Middle East, I’d dusted off my backpack and was travelling around South-East Asia. I was in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand when I received an e mail from an ex colleague who’s a BBC Series Producer. She had a friend, coincidentally enough, also in Chiang Mai, who required a fund-raising documentary film to be made. The subject was the state of the education system in Burma and Burmese students.
What where the surroundings like compared to UK?
We filmed in a variety of locations in Burma and Thailand. Burma’s pretty grim; poverty-ridden; down-trodden people; below standard infrastructure all hanging under the malaise of military rule. Thailand’s great!
I wrote recently here that Google is likely to become one of our biggest paymasters in the future of the TV production industry, but this still sounds like crystal ball-gazing, or science fiction. Right now, most predictions for TV watching in the future, other than the licence funded BBC, are based on viewers paying a little – or a lot – for what they want to watch. And it looks like they want better than they’re getting just now.
When television viewers can choose what they want to view and when, they have less tolerance for low-budget, vapid TV wallpaper. Adam Curtis, maker of The Power Of Nightmares and Century of the Self, recently told C21 Media that the BBC iPlayer is one of the things changing the state of play for documentary production, because people can watch docs again and again, which means they can be “as complicated as you want.” This discerning viewing goes far beyond BBC iPlayer – any digital TV box with a recording facility gives viewers the same power of involvement and will be the kiss of death to patronising telly.
David Cuff is Virgin Media’s Commercial Director, and I recently heard him tell a room full of interactive TV producers that, “there is a flight towards quality. People are watching better quality programmes, for which they are prepared to pay”. But this isn’t just about affluent viewers getting the good stuff. We can still do the traditional thing and pay through our shopping bills by watching adverts, they’ll just be better targeted to each of us. Advertisers don’t really have a problem with smaller audiences if they can get a better focus on just the people they really want to reach.
Word of mouth is a term that is fundamental to the hiring culture of the production industry, which only succeeds in elevating the importance of one’s reputation. You may come highly recommended, but without having the reputation to match, your recommendations are practically worthless.
“Congratulations to the winners and runners-up of the first Freelancer of the Year Awards, but will they get more contracts now as a result of their well-deserved awards?… If the winners’ peers and employers have voted for them, they must have something good. Frankly, as far as getting that next production job goes, it’s not just how good you are at your work that really matters, but how good other people think you are… There is a small group of freelance programme-makers whom all the companies compete for all of the time. They are the must-have hires that commissioning editors insist on, and indies work hard at building up a close relationship with them. These freelancers need never be unemployed if they don’t want to be, they are the height of fashion.”
Congratulations to the winners and runners-up of the first Freelancer of the Year Awards, but will they get more contracts now as a result of their well-deserved awards? I think so, and here is why. Only five days after the awards ceremony Sandy, Wayne and Ash will have had more potential employers than before looking at their CVs. If the winners’ peers and employers have voted for them, they must have something good. Frankly, as far as getting that next production job goes, it’s not just how good you are at your work that really matters, but how good other people think you are.
Multimedia platforms have been around for a substantial time now, yet finding freelancers with the skills needed to produce and deliver this content, can be hard. Skillset are clearly responding to this, so is it ultimatum time for those freelancers who are resistant to change?
There has been a massive shift in the training available for freelancers this season. From now on, Skillset’s Television Freelance Fund, which subsidises up to 60% of the costs of training courses for TV freelancers, will be put into courses which add to your skills in entrepreneurialism, multiplatform production or new-media management.
If you want financial support with traditional linear television production training, then you will need to wait at least until this recession is well and truly over. And maybe much longer. Broadcasters and independent producers make a voluntary contribution to the Television Training Fund which pays for freelancers’ courses, but they have been paying less in lately having been hit by a witches brew of business recession.
How will social media affect the way that we make and watch programmes in the future? This week Moray caresses his crystal ball to find out.
“Social media” is the hackneyed phrase of our time, attached to any venture which could involve a minimum of two people and a computer. The phrase seems as likely to refer to the rejig of a coffee-shop’s opening hours as to a new version of Facebook. It’s the kiss of death to any executive proposal if “social media” isn’t incorporated somewhere in the first line. It’s a compelling bandwagon, and I’m as liable as anyone to be geed-up by the Socialnomics viral that took marketing execs by storm last month.
But just because the ‘social media’ phrase is as indistinct as New labour’s ‘Third Way’, doesn’t mean that social media isn’t going to affect the way you work too. You might think that telly is a social medium already, but here’s my latest crystal ball reading on what Social Media will mean for television production. In short, we’re all going to be at it soon.
Freelancer Jonathan Sidwell is new to the industry and has been very successful as an Assistant Director both in 1st & 2nd position. He has accrued significant credits in commercial & music promotions, live Television and films. Jonathan recently worked on a Feature film for BigFoot Entertainment as a 2nd Assistant Director, and he shares his experiences.
The shoot was for a feature film named “DeepGold”. It’s set in the Philippines and I spent 4-5 months on location in Cebu. The film itself is an action/adventure where a military pilot is accused of stealing a plane filled with gold. His girlfriend attempts to clear his name in a race to find the missing gold. She later comes to realise she is not alone on her mission, and her competitors motives may not be as selfless as hers.
Could delivering online content be the way to find treasure at the end of the rainbow? We’re all aware of its potential, but how it can be exploited?
It’s a quarter of a century since Channel 4 opened the floodgates to the growth of the independent production sector. Many indies are now bigger and richer than anyone thought possible, and arguably they are the core of the television industry.
In contrast, some of the broadcasters are beginning to resemble shop windows for the formats of any production company with the cash flow to put them there.
But there was an exciting time in the mid-1980’s when it seemed that anyone with a commissionable programme idea could put together a production company and get it made. It might not have made them rich, but they were part of a thrilling cultural movement.
In 2009 television advertising revenue fell by 17% which has panicked broadcasters into questioning their future. After spending 3 days at the RTS Cambridge Convention this week Moray reports on how Google claim that they can save the day.
“I’ve just spent three days at the RTS Cambridge Convention, the gathering every two years of some two hundred people who own or run the UK’s TV industry… Sessions led by the likes of Mark Thompson, Peter Bazalgette, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, Andy Duncan and Dawn Airey, worried over the future of the BBC and the commercial broadcasters. But the big question lurking over every session was, ‘where will the money come from?’… Then, like a deity summoned from Olympus, Eric Schmidt appeared on a live satellite-link to answer questions from the delegates and give the word of Google. If Larry Page and Sergey Brin thought up Google, the most successful start-up in history, Eric Schmidt is the Chief Executive they brought in to run and grow it. And Google is aiming to be the god of all television.
I’ve just spent three days at the RTS Cambridge Convention, the gathering every two years of some two hundred people who own or run the UK’s TV industry. The mood certainly wasn’t self-congratulatory, if anything, the tone was typical of that set by Phil Redmond, creator of Brookside and Grange Hill, when quoting screenwriter, William Goldman, ‘nobody knows nothing’.