Tag Archives: red productions

Writing Drama With Ambition and the Rise of the Co-Production

breaking badWe’ve long had a love-affair with American television drama and the list of US shows we Brits love to watch is long. Whether you were there twenty years ago with The Sopranos, E.R and Grey’s Anatomy, or ten years ago with House and Dexter, or are just discovering the joys of The Americans, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, True Blood, The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie, Under the Dome, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D or Nashville, chances are you’ve seen and fallen a bit in love with a US drama series. Heck, we even watch US remakes of our own shows – House of Cards on Netflix anyone? And the Americans aren’t averse to a bit of UK drama themselves, whether watching our original show (Doctor Who) or producing their own version (Shameless).

sherlockThat symbiotic relationship has also created a production partnership which, particularly between the BBC and WGBH/Masterpiece, has a very long history; many a period BBC Drama has been a co-production with Masterpiece; Bleak House, Cranford, The Lost Prince, Little Dorrit to name a few. In a climate where few UK broadcasters can fully fund the high-end dramas, many of today’s UK originated shows are hugely dependant on co-production money from the US. Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge (ITV Studios,  WGBH/Masterpiece), Sherlock (BBC, Hartwood Films, WGBH/Masterpiece), Parade’s End (BBC, Mammoth Screen, HBO), Dracula (Sky, NBC), Top of the Lake (BBC, Sundance Channel), The White Queen (BBC, Starz).

Lately we’ve discovered that there is a world of great drama beyond the US. We’ve been enjoying The Bridge, Inspector Montalbano, Borgen, Spiral, The Killing and The Returned. And where there is a willingness to watch each other’s drama productions, there seems to follow an appetite for co-producing. Red Planet Pictures’ hugely successful Death in Paradise is a co-production with Atlantique Production and France Télévisions. While Sky’s new drama The Tunnel, a Shine/Kudos/Canal+ co-production, is doing great numbers for them on Sky Atlantic.

But an apthe tunnelpetite for drama from other countries doesn’t always translate into successful co-productions on new projects. Zen, a co-production between the UK, US, Germany and Italy, didn’t take off in the UK and was cancelled after its first series. Will Gould (Tiger Aspect) has commented “sometimes a script comes to your desk and it has four or five different nationalities and a note saying ‘these nationalities will change depending on who is financing the project’. I worry about creating drama purely by the funding.”

At the annual Totally Serialized conference in London, organised by the Institut Francais, there are public screenings of the best of European dramas. The event runs 16-19 January with one day (16th January) given to an industry event discussing the topic. This year it includes a panel discussion of the challenges and opportunities of writing for co-production dramas.

As budgets get squeezed and our storytelling ambitions get bigger, co-productions feel like a natural solution. And with French film producer and distributer Studio Canal taking a majority stake in Nicola Shindler’s hugely successful UK indie Red Productions last year, it seems that developing partnerships beyond our own shores is set to continue. So if you’ve got a compelling story to tell that straddles countries, there is definitely the will to make it happen.

Calling the shots on more than just Call The Midwife

call the midwife cyclingAn all-female directing line-up shouldn’t make headlines.

As it enters production on series three, Call The Midwife has been making headlines, both here and in the US. The reason?

Every director on the series will be a woman. Although this is said to be by happy accident rather than design, helped in no small part by the intimately female subject matter, it does raise the question: why is this so unusual?

It’s not without precedent – the third series of Scott and Bailey beat Midwife to it – but it’s far too early to say the tide has turned. As I look across the current drama landscape, it’s clear that these two shows are indeed news-worthy because all-male directing line-ups are still the norm.

I knew back in 2009 that the television directing landscape was male-dominated. Working on Blue Murder for ITV Studios, I did a huge trawl of directing talent working in the industry. Of the 140 names I had, only 16 were women, a paltry 11%.

I’d assumed that since then things had improved. But recent research by Directors UK found that the number of women directors in UK drama has dropped significantly in the past five years. In the US, the Directors Guild of America revealed that in 2011/12, only 15% of scripted television episodes were directed by women.

Recent big dramas such as Broadchurch, Ripper Street, Death In Paradise, Luther, DCI Banks, Prisoners’ Wives and Mr Selfridge clocked up 112 hours between them, hiring 29 directors. All were men. The continuing drama series don’t fare much better: women make up 18% of the directors on Holby City, 17% on Casualty and 13% on Waterloo Road.

Organisations like Women in Film & Television do much to give the issue profile but we need more research if we’re to start tackling this dearth. Thankfully, there is progress here. Directors UK formed the Women’s Working Group, chaired by Beryl Richards, which has been able to mine broadcasters’ annual residuals data to track the gender split. Kate Harwood, BBC’s head of drama production, England, has shown her support.

While active encouragement into the industry is to be applauded, is there a lack of women pursuing directing as a career? Or are we just not hiring those that are emerging?

The evidence from the UK’s film industry, where female directing talent is similarly underrepresented, suggests that women are setting off on the path to a directing career.

Briony Hanson, director of film at the British Council, notes that at film schools and among short filmmakers, there are as many women as men. Then suddenly they disappear.

It’s the men who go on to make their first feature film and break into television drama directing, becoming the next generation of film and television directors.

The BBC is undertaking a study of hiring practices in BBC drama to determine why it seems so difficult to get a drama directing job if you’re a woman. It’ll be interesting to see what issues the research reveals. Hopefully, we can then take steps to help those talented female directors not just to break into the industry but to sustain successful careers as directors.

Article written for and first published in Broadcast 20 June 2013

Production Companies (UK) Accepting Unsolicited Scripts

Getting your unsolicited script made, or even read by a production company, is about the toughest way to break into the industry, but lots of people still ask me about it so here’s my two-pennies-worth…

get unsolicited script read by production companies

If I go back only ten years I could have written a list here of nearly a hundred film and television production companies who would accept scripts submitted by new writers (writers they didn’t know, and who didn’t have an agent).  I know because I made a living reading for about twenty of them.  Sadly, that is no longer the case. It costs money to employ readers to plough through tens of thousands of scripts each year.  The reality is that of those thousands of spec scripts, only a handful will be good enough for the production company to want to develop it and try to get it made.  In essence the return on the money invested in reading unsolicited scripts is too small to make it viable for most companies.

However, maybe you are that one in ten thousand whose script is pretty much perfect but you don’t yet have an agent or any credits or a script competition win to your name.  So how do you get a production company to read your script?  Well, there are still a handful of places accepting unsolicited submissions. But remember – you only get ONE CHANCE to impress so make sure you’ve had constructive, professional feedback and rewritten it so that it really showcases your writing.

I’ve listed below all the places I’ve found that do still accept unsolicited script submissions.  Check out their websites and follow their submission guidelines. If in doubt, contact them and ask what their policy is.

BBC Writersroom – not a production company as such but as part of the BBC the Writersroom has the connections within the organisation to connect you and your project with the drama production part of the BBC.

BFI Film Fund – a funding source for script development and production but they are looking for submissions ideally from a team that can get the film made (writer/producer/director).

BabyJane Productions

Blast Films

Braidmade Films

Cascade Media – Writers’ Couch

Feelgood Fiction

Fidelity Films

Ipso Facto Films

Little Green Jade

One Eyed Dog Films

Phantom Pictures

Panther Pictures

Picture Palace

Red Production Company

Red Planet Pictures

RS Productions

Shooting People – online pitching available.  Subscription required.

Spectre Vision

Do bear in mind that I’m not recommending these production companies, I’m just pulling together information that’s already in the public domain.  It’s up to you to do your homework.

It’s also worth looking at emerging producers who are starting to get films made and might be looking for new projeccts. Look at who is being awarded funding by schemes like the BFI Film Fund or iFeatures2.

Also check out these great blog posts on making your submission a ‘solicited’ one:

‘Can’t Get Read? Yes You Can!’ by Lucy Hay (Bang2Write)

‘Submitting To Companies That Don’t Take Unsolicited Material’ by Ashley Scott Meyers.

Good luck!