Category Archives: Channel 4
Yet another one of those brilliant lunchtime talks at work took place last week and we had Becky Clarke – Head of Factual at Optomen. Becky’s impressive credit list includes Mary Portas Secret Shopper (Channel 4), Mary Queen of Shops (BBC Two), Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (ITV) as well as Cops and Robbers (BBC One).
Becky shared some of her thoughts on what made successful primetime factual television. She said that when producing your first series, one should not be stressed about making it a hit. The first series should be your testing ground of what works and what does not work. It’s about building the format and cementing your talent as an expert in their field.
She used Mary Queen of Shops as an example. Becky said that it took three years to build the show and Mary’s brand. The first series very much felt like a mismatch. However, your second series is the most important one. Here, you establish the brand and learn from the mistakes made from the first one.
This is a preview of Mary Queen of Shops S2. Thanks to fashionLond0n for the video.
Becky said that once you get to your third series, one must refresh the format as viewers are now wise to them. Audiences find it intriguing to see the more human side of the expert. Viewers seeing the expert ‘fail’ works. She said that for the third series, they were not afraid to break the format and they showed that not all can be won by the mighty Mary Portas. Episode 1 of Season 3 featured a bakery proprietor asking for the crew and Mary to leave, which meant that filming had to be stopped. Luckily, Becky and the team had enough in the can to have all these kick off the first episode of the third series.
I’ve loved the documentary series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings on TV, which was a big surprise hit for Channel 4. It gives a great insight to a very private community and let’s face it – it was brilliant looking at the flambouyant dresses on show. And so I listened with great interest when Firecracker Films‘ Executive Producer Jes Wilkins and Producer Victoria Hamburger shared their experiences with making the whole series during a lunchtime talk they did.
Jes said that many indies and networks have looked into this subject but have drawn a blank. However, his development producer not only brought in the talent, they also suggested a way of making it. And even with that it wasn’t as immediate ‘slam dunk’, but the department at C4 that commissioned them fell in love with the idea and was able to give them development money, which enabled them to make a taster.
It took 13 months to make the whole thing and they were faced with editorial challenges as well as issues with access, casting and even finding that balance between serious journalism and popular/entertainment feel, but MBFGW had the images that the press wanted, which catapulted the series into the media spotlight. And although there are some bad press involved, Jes said: “We are very pleased and very proud. We could not anticipate how well it could have done.”
Victoria talked about logistics during filming and how a small crew suited the situation better, giving that feeling that the filmmakers are living their lives with the travellers.
Both said that majority of the feedback from the travellers had been ‘overwhelmingly positive’. They had mentioned that they do get calls from some contributors about the media attention they have been getting since being featured on the show.
“You have a duty of care to your contributors as a filmmaker even after the programme,” Victoria said.
Armed with a Flip camera, I have captured elements of some of the various panel sessions and opening night at TMFA 2010, which was held at The Roundhouse in London.
Louise Benson at the opening night
Peter Bazalgette at the opening night
Will Gompertz – opening night Question Time
Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary
Old Money New Commissioning
Mark Thompson – Arts + TV + Internet = ? Panel
Birmingham’s Austin Court played host Channel 4’s Multiplatform Briefing. The team consisted of Louise Brown (Head of Cross Platform Commissioning), Matt Locke (Commissioning Editor, Education) and Tom Loosemore (Head of 4iP).
Louise Brown said that she would like to extend television programmes and new media to complement this. She would like to increase the impact of Channel 4 content online including games. She thinks that the depth of the impact will rise with ‘digital experiences’. She’s looking at more health and sex ed proposals especially after the success of: Sexperience, Embarrassing Bodies and Hollyoaks: The Morning After The Night Before. Louise is looking to hear from digital companies and production companies.
Matt Locke added that he is interested in teen emotional resilience. He thinks that this is the territory for 2010.
Tom Loosemore spoke about 4iP. He said that Channel 4’s DNA = doing it first + inspiring change and people’s lives + making trouble in the public’s interest. 4iP is about stimulating products and companies and it is about partnerships, which 4iP is very interested about. 4iP is looking for world-changing ideas with a sense of gravity, participation and collaboration.
To read the notes from this event, go to Notes from the Meet the Channel 4 Digital Commissioner briefings.
Day 2 was all about Drama, Entertainment and Comedy. Julian Bellamy and Kevin Lygo once again opened the proceedings and welcomed the attendees. Stuart Cosgrove, who chaired the event, said that Channel 4 cannot grow and develop without innovation.
Bellamy once again mentioned that the channel is looking to increase its spend in drama and that 2010 is going to be a curious year as they get the channel ready post Big Brother. He said that there will be a new set of commissioning priorities emerging from Channel 4 as well as a new set of commissions.
After a quick Q&A with Bellamy and Lygo, Head of Entertainment and Comedy Andrew Newman came up. He wants something edgy, innovative and experimental. He applauded Derren Brown’s: The Events (lottery prediction show), because of how innovative and groundbreaking it was.
He said there is still room for one or two new things for 2010 but limitless for 2011. He would ‘relish’ more studio entertainment shows as well as comedy reality shows plus good authored clip shows like Harry Hill’s TV Burp and Ponderland. He said that it would be good to have a funny regional female talent.
Comedy-wise, commissioning editor Shane Allen spoke very highly of The IT Crowd, Britain’s Got the Pop Factor…, Star Stories, Comedy Lab and Comedy Showcase. He said that comedy is expensive and risky but can be channel-defining. He does not want something that they have already. The team are looking for a new season for the end of February 2010. He suggests that they need more than just a treatment – teaser tapes are a good idea. He wants something that is diverse and can be a series.
For drama, the team are looking for 2-3 drama events. It can be contemporary or historical but it has to be relevant. Looking to do 3 single films a year in which issue is at its heart (e.g. Boy A or The Unloved). They are also looking for a comedy drama series for 10pm and a comedy drama series on E4 for the 16-24s. They do not want to be prescriptive because they do not want to miss out on great ideas. Robert Wulff-Cochrane is the head of drama development.
Andrew Jackson took to the stage and talked about Features. He said that features is aspirational and something that ‘holds a mirror of our lives’. Like the other commissioners, his team are looking for big, new, bold ideas with fresh faces that will ‘shake us up’.
Although he doesn’t want to rule out some things immediately, he’s already saying no to property, body image and fashion. 2010 is pretty full, so we’re looking at 2011 onwards. For the 8pm slot, he wants new talent. If you have access to new talent, get them on tape even if it’s rough. For the 9pm slot, he’s looking for health but not in BBC style. Think Embarrassing Illnesses.
Next up was Andrew Mackenzie to talk about Factual Entertainment. His department has the broadest brief in the channel. 9pm is all about the passions and excitement of modern Britain i.e. how we live. 10pm is about excitement and shifted entertainment. It has to have the same impact as Big Brother, so something like a one-week stripped or three-week event. Need to think of competitive format – not business or food i.e. nothing like The Apprentice or The Restaurant. Think: what is the next territory? Need new approach to these things and need simple irreverent ideas with a factual base. The simplest ideas have the most impact. We can’t replicate Big Brother, but aim for its scale.
Dorothy Byrne followed and spoke about News and Current Affairs. She wants something challenging but not being stupid. She would like: big foreign films – enormously powerful docs with current feel; new way of looking at undercover; big investigation – year-long investigation into a subject that matters; and radical / challenging views – don’t need a fully developed story but it could be about Britain or the world with an interesting author that would shock people. She doesn’t want anything pompous or patronising. She wants to see social network engagement and fun with journalism.
Channel 4 had two briefing days in November and Day 1 was all about Factual. I went to Horseferry Road to check out what the commissioners’ wish lists were. Opening the event was Channel 4′s Nations and Regions Head of Programmes who said that the channel faces a creative and cultural renewal post Big Brother.
Stuart was followed by Kevin Lygo – the channel’s Director of Television. He said that TV is going through an interesting time… a ‘very grim time’. He mentioned that C4 has less money to spend that what they had a few years ago, but still have millions to spend on new programming. There is approximately £50m available to make new shows.
Head of Programmes Julian Bellamy echoed what Lygo said and added that factual is ‘up for grabs’. C4 also wants to spend more money on drama, factual entertainment and live events. They want big, groundbreaking shows that are unusual, experimental and creative to fill that hole post BB.
Bellamy said that around December, commissioning priorities will emerge. He said that C4 is short of one or two campaigning seasons, specialist factual and news / current affairs programmes. Lygo added that without BB, people miss live events, entertainment and watercooler moment shows.
So, first up to share his wish list is Head of Documentaries, Hamish Mykura.
- fresh formatted docs
- bigger events
- docu-dramas are still in the equation
- presenter-led ideas a la Louis Thoreaux – there’s a shortage of this
- observational docs with a point of view – what makes them belong to C4?
Who’s who in C4 Documentaries?
Commissioning editor, Mark Raphael has taken over Cutting Edge. Cutting Edge is all about reflecting contemporary Britain andreflecting the voices of the directors. Aysha Rafaele looks after First Cut (30 mins on any subject). More 4′s International Doc Strand contains 40 films a year on any subject matter with unashamed sense.
Docs have not been hit by the recession and so cash shortage is not a problem in this department. As of the 21st of November, slots for this strand is still available for 2010 and that there is a ‘terrifying blank sheet for 2011′.
Ralph Lee – Specialist Factual
Specialist factual is an ‘ideas hungry department’. Lee highlights three filters that are integral to this strand: intelligence (like to show strong voices), impact (motivating people to watch amidst background of wide range of choices to watch) and entertainment (really important to C4).
He said that it is not easy to commission single documentaries, so essentially, he’s not looking for single docs specifically. Topics-wise, the areas of interests are psychology, science, history, anthropology and arts. He doesn’t want to do anything niche and presenter-led formats are not a priority for specialist factual. Arts is very much on the agenda. REligion has been absorbed into specialist factual as well.