BAFTA and The Next Generation

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BAFTA do a great job of hosting attractive events. They make sure the tables are round and lined with clean white linen and that there is plenty of water to go around, but more importantly, they bring in a wealthy host of professional talent to share their experiences. This weekend they held a “Generation Next” day for TV at Salford, MediaCityUK. It was a packed day covering five one-hour panel sessions from production management to building an audience beyond TV. Certainly, a vast number of industry professionals walked in and out the door, all pretty much concluding with the same advice: “it’s really hard to break in”, “be passionate” and “be persistent”.

However, as the day was home “to the best minds in the industry” I do want to share a few pointers that don’t necessarily float explicitly around the web, but more than knowledge, it is no doubt the stimulus that such a day gives you that is worth holding on to. Also, meeting fellow generations can be hopeful, you all exchange cards in the confidence that one-day you will be sitting in a position to give them a call and chat about your great jobs. Of course, there is the person who goes a little overboard and throws a pile of cards at everyone; it isn’t the most appealing form of communication. I have decided I need a business card holder on my desk; otherwise the bin jumps at the opportunity. I’ll stop being cynical; as it was encouraging to see many talkative and enthusiastic contemporaries, and after all, 10 years down the line we will all be in the sinking boat together.

So, I’ll talk about some of the positives from the day, be they areas of encouragement from the panel or general insights, and then I’ll mention a few rebuffs, all though they pretty much boil down to “it’s really hard to break in” and “everyone has a different way in.” It almost became a rather depressing day; the talks and atmosphere fuel you with inspiration but subsequently act as a quilt of disguise into the actual industry.

Judy Counihan, head of drama and film at Objective Productions, came up from London to talk about the hit show Fresh Meat on which she is executive producer. She was joined by one of her writers, Tony Roche, to discuss the “anatomy of a TV hit.” They went into an interesting amount of detail regarding the process for writers in TV and their relationship with the actors, director and producer. Though, I want to mention a few things Judy said about developing the writing team. She talks about bringing on quite a few new writers for the show, she reasons new writers to have an authentic voice and looked for writers with experience in stage plays. She also went on to add that she likes actors who turn to writing their own material, perhaps this could be a question for a deeper understanding of character or action. Whilst she didn’t elaborate further on her recruitment process, she was clear to inform: “the craft of writing is about re-writing.”

Colin McKeown, head producer of LA Productions in Liverpool led the next panel and he certainly had character, he gave the freshest approach of the day, explicitly telling everyone to make the most of the day and ask ample questions even if they are dumber than dumb, after all, “you’ve paid for it!” It was much needed laughter to keep everyone fully engaged; the 7am train and lack of breakfast was beginning to settle in for me and my friend sat next to me. Notwithstanding Colin’s entertainment, the panel was the most interesting for me, discussing production management from a perspective that clearly crosses over all genre and modes of production. Nadia Jaynes who is a freelance Line Producer (Bedlam, Exile, Red Riding) and also manages her own company (Strawberry Films) said she loves people who make short films and take the getting out there and doing it yourself approach, which is encouraging as some panel speakers hinted at such endeavours as futile and regarded getting your foot in the actual door, as a runner, more beneficial. It clearly depends on ones aspirations, but what has been made explicit is that you can either spend 15 years working your way up the floor and AD (assistant director) department to a PM (production manager) or do it yourself and build a team (albeit not easy with no money, but as they all say, “persistence” and “passion” will get you through).

Regarding CVs, Nadia looks for exact comments or words that match the project or job advertisement – the solution seems simple: copy and paste in and around the words of the advert. Similarly, only state relevant experience in your CV that exactly matches the role. I can remember putting everything from gaffer to boom operator on my CV, simply because I set up a light when I was running and worked the sound on a two man shoot. It isn’t exactly lying but it doesn’t suggest you have specifically crafted skills and as a panellist later on said, “quality is better than quantity”. It puts Nadia off and rightly so, you wouldn’t employ someone who wasn’t clear about his or her intentions. (I say as I currently edit my CV).

The next panel was a battle between the soaps: Emmerdale’s Crew Manager, Hollyoaks’s Head of Production and Coronation Street’s Production Manager. They provided some light entertainment that included trying to prove who carries out the biggest stunt each year (factors including budget and level of danger) and generally disagreeing on some methods of production. It was nevertheless (in fact, as a consequence) invaluable insight. Key pointers I took away from the discussion include “never say no” when you are working, you always find a way to do what you can collaboratively, that across the industry the Assistant Directors are generally underrated at what they do and there are more positions opening up in this department, and finally, that one should be punctual on set and respect the discipline. One speaker mentioned (to paraphrase) that they had a runner slouched over for most of the day looking in the other direction – it is pretty obvious what you should do instead.

After the clash of the continuing dramas was over it was time for the specific discussion relating to career strategy. Whilst most of this was chatter you’ve had drilled into you for the past few years, there were some refreshing opinions on the matter. Primarily, Daniell Morrisey, the Head of Talent at BBC Comedy, gave a snappy and conclusive speech on how to do your CVs once and for all – call it a mini-masterclass. There is the obvious, but there is also the little test of holding your CV out in front of you and applying the “two-second rule”, can you get a clear picture in two seconds? By having a significant design (perhaps indented margins or columned bullet points) and a short and snappy bold mission statement with punchy words and straight to the point, Daniel believes you can. Another panellist, Sumi Connock, Creative Director for Entertainment at ITV Studios, adds that you must do your research (we have all sent our CV to a company from our desperate spreadsheets of future employers, without really knowing much about what they produce or their goals). Sumi wants actual opinions when she interviews people, you must be interested in the content. It is common sense, but it is also easily forgotten when all you want is your “foot in the door”. It circles back to being respectful, someone won’t do you a favour unless you show them reverence by watching their work – at least this is how our world works most the time.

The final panel discussion of the day was surrounding the rapidly expanding digital era and what this is changing for TV. Interesting presentations were given around digital media’s ability to reach audiences beyond the TV, either featuring use of online servers and social media connectivity or utilising the new platforms (smart phones and tablets) for games and other incorporated merchandise. Dave Eccles, Founder and Director of Numiko Digital Agency, talked about a fantastic multi-platform project for Channel 4 and Windfall Films in which they mapped urban foxes using GPS collars and den cameras, allowing for audiences to call in what they really think about foxes and even check in the urban foxes they spot themselves via the network. They are doing some really cool stuff and it makes you realise how vast and expansive the world of digital media is becoming, not to mention its profitability (I imagine so); a question I wanted to ask Dave but I got a bit too apprehensive. In fact, no mention of money or moneymaking was discussed all day, not a single panellist mentioned their income or lives outside of the workplace, I suppose we must all be to infatuated with the industry to care about these factors of life. Whilst that is true, I regret now not getting a gauge on their various incomes. The tension between continuing drama may have turned sticky.

“Thank you BAFTA.” (Unfortunately, I am not collecting an award this time around).

Keep up with what’s happening at BAFTA here.

 

Asleep at the Bottom of the Pack – The Movie Extra

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Film extras need to have a certain agenda i.e. not a lot of pride. If you begin the day with pride in your stride, you will walk away gasping in despair. Ricky Gervais really did hit the nail on the head with his comical representation of extras in his TV hit of the same name. The reason I say this is because last week I had the pleasure of being an extra. I received a call to work on BBC’s period drama Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

There are a few reasons why it was a worthwhile opportunity. To be a good film director, you need to gather a degree of experience in every role on set. There is surely no better way to project a feeling of unity as a director if you know exactly what everyone is going through. So it was nice to sit back and watch everyone work – the tension of the 1st AD as he kept looking down at his watch, the sparks as they all ran around close to tripping up over the obstacle course in front of them and the costume dailies as they darted back and forth between takes pulling up collars and sleeves etc. There was also the fact that BBC pays their extras rather well!

However, the behind-the-scenes experience wasn’t quite as fruitful, at least for the extra, as I had expected. Mingling with anyone other than extras is like staring at the horns of a dragon. Instead, when not needed, we would be locked up in what they called “the green room” – a room where extras sat falling asleep, playing cards or talking about past experiences of similar anguish. I decided to be slightly more pro-active, at lunchtime I headed over to the 3rd AD for a chat about the production and his work… he gaped at me, gave a hesitant non-existent answer and turned around to chat to someone else. Fair enough.

Lunch was surprisingly plentiful and tasty. Roast dinners were followed by sponge cake and custard. The only problem was actually getting to the food. The queue seemed to move backwards as grips and electricians continued to flood in. Though you can’t blame crew for pushing in, they are actually doing a job and working hard rather than walking aimlessly backwards and forwards, and out of focus I might add.

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(Unfortunately, the snapchat bogus above is the only image I managed to capture, but it seems to sum up the few days pretty well. Left: myself – Right: a good fellow stranger called Lee).

“The green room” did host some ingenious fun and games. A fellow extra started a round tournament for throwing plastic cups (previously containing hot tea) into a distant paper bin. Accuracy was greatly impeded by the fact that arm and shoulder movement was vastly limited in tight 19th century waistcoats and jackets. If you tried to loosen your jacket (and breathe), costume would be through the door screaming at your back. They are like a team of hawks and you do not want to get on the wrong side of their leader, the costume designer! Make-up and hair provide a similar shot of sharp-sighted glares.

Other games included movie trivia with a an extra who rather fancied himself as a Marty Scorsese, a movie buff who I could pass the next five hours with. This was turning out to be a fun day and a great way to bring in the cash. We played another game – I don’t know how better to describe it: name the film, name an actor from that film, name another film with that actor, name another actor from that film etc. until you get stuck. However, some extras were incredibly tame individuals and others remarkably self-possessed. To be frank, the whole clout could make rather a good theatrical component itself!

The show is airing in 2015 next January. See you then!

The Thirteenth Tale – BBC Films at their Best

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MOVIE REVIEW

The Thirteenth Tale 
Heyday Films, UK
90 Min 
1.78:1
Release BBC Two: 30th December 2013

DIR James Kent
EXEC Rosie Alison
PROD Norma Heyman, David Heyman
SCR Christopher Hampton
DP Jean-Phillipe Gossart
CAST Olivia Colman, Vanessa Redgrave, Emily Beecham

This BBC drama was aired on the 30th December and is based upon the best-selling gothic novel The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. The film contains all the essential features we’d expect from a contemporary BBC drama: lavish locations with well-framed exterior shots, baroquely decked interior shots and moody lighting to create the designated spooky atmosphere. This film may sound overtly established with its classic ghost story aesthetic, but the screenplay by Christopher Hampton and direction by James Kent manage to subvert the expected clichés and give the audience a gripping and well-told story through and through.

Olivia Colman plays the biographer, a somewhat introverted and morose woman with plenty of her own issues, who comes to visit the author (Vanessa Redgrave) in her gigantic and decorative house in the heart of the Yorkshire moors. Colman is superb as usual and Redgrave is mesmerizing with her every look proportional to a deep and meaningful void of memories.

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Redgrave’s character is close to death and chooses to tell her thirteenth tale in account of what really happened, on previous occasions she has made all sorts of stories up to the press. However, she strikes a connection distilled on fascination with Colman’s character and the truth begins to unravel. As this tale evolves, things become more and more bizarre and suspicious until all hair is raised in the final act.

The narrative is very concerned with atmosphere, which is not surprising considering the beautiful Yorkshire locations (including Broughton Hall and Duncombe Park), hence in some areas one might feel this story would’ve been better wrapped up in a 60 minute slot. However, as someone infatuated with the timeframe of film, I feel this story was rightly served and that the atmosphere was exquisitely well established and irrefutably necessary for the nature of this film. The story was gripping throughout and the performances a highlight to be reckoned with.

4/5 stars

Watch a preview below:

David Blaine – “You’re a maniac”

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I quote Ricky Gervais above, one of the many celebrities to feature on David Blaine’s new TV show Real or Magic.

I’ve seen some of David Blaine’s stuff before, but this show casts a new spell on the meaning of magic. This show has stuck with me like a needle in my head (not my arm, as Blaine does with joy) ever since I watched it a few days ago on new years day.

There appears to be no logical reason behind the supernatural acts that Blaine performs, such as passing sensitivity from one body to another and sticking needles through different parts of his body with no pain or blood. Also, the fact that these acts are performed on various superstars from Will Smith to Kanye West puts the performance on a monumental scale. At one point, Harrison Ford says anxiously to Blaine, “Get out of my house.” He is truly freaked and it is an absolute thrill to watch.

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I actually found myself bursting out with laughter on occasion – at the madness of the magic and the dumbfounded expressions of Blaine’s victims. One simply can’t hold back at peoples gaping jaws and popping eyes, the disbelief of the Smith family is notably hilarious. However, there is also a moment or two of delight, for example when Stephen Hawking proclaims to Blaine, “I don’t know how you did it” with a wonderful smile on his face.

I’m truly flabbergasted by this show and cannot wait for the next episode.

So, is this guy an alien, a maniac, a natural born freak, or just a very clever man? Watch the show on 4oD and let me know your thoughts!

Watch on 4oD here.