A few years ago I was at a party in Soho, hobnobbing with people like Carole Vorderman (she was popular then) and Ross Kemp (he was new) and that Beckham kiss-and-tell woman (remember her?). Earlier I’d been to the Ritz with Sir David Frost to talk about a sports debate show and he told me funny stories about Ali, Nixon and Monty Python. I was a commissioning editor and this wasn’t a bad day’s work for a Salford boy.
Fast forward to last summer and I’m in a pokey Cornish B&B with a broken shower and a room smelling of dead dog. I have no spare socks and I’m rushing out to get a shot on a DV camera from the side of some docks. It’s 6am and I’m lying on the cold, wet floor, my face scrunched into the camera eyepiece. How did it come to this? Where did it all go wrong? If only Vorderman can help me work it out?
It was great being a commissioning editor, I thought it was the best job in the world – meeting talented people and the feeling that you’re in a big supermarket of ideas. Being an an Exec at a small indie in many ways more rewarding because the pressures are different? They’re more real. Responsibilities such as development, securing access, managing a big team, hustling, begging, and running around sockless (BBC Four budgets!) all give the job an exciting edge.
Broadcasters like any other business, might be tempted to tighten the belt (even if it’s not necessary), during an economic downturn, but how much will this assist the long-term agenda? This week I reflect on Delissa Needham’s theory and offer a healthy alternative.
Has your attention been caught by the In My View column in last week’s Broadcast magazine? Delissa Needham, who is an executive producer at the Bio Channel and an experienced programme-maker in her own right, holds that the BBC overspends on its independent commissions when it could be buying-in the same commissions for a fifth of the cost.
Ms Needham writes that the BBC is doing the equivalent of shopping for its groceries at Harrods rather than a supermarket brand by commissioning from the bigger production companies who, “can’t and won’t do low-budget programming. It’s a skill that needs the right producing talent and the right commissioners experienced in low budget”.
If British broadcasters are under more pressure than ever to succumb to commercial pressures, what place does documentary filmmaking hold in the commissioner’s line-up? This week, I look at whether support for documentary filmmaking is about to become a lavish extravagance of the past.
It would be interesting to know how many ProductionBase members initially pursued a career in television because you wanted to make significant documentaries which could be watched by millions. I expect that a sizable number did, regardless of the genre of production each of you have specialised in since starting out. In practice, freelancers can find themselves pigeon-holed by genre; you may have taken that job on a popular satellite shopping channel, but you took it because you were trapped by financial responsibility, not because it fulfilled your creative desires. If this is the drift which takes people away from documentary, then where is the documentary itself drifting? In UK broadcast television, the documentary world has been changing fast, and here is what I see happening.