From Hamlet to Richard III – history brought to life

I took part in a live-action role play a couple of weeks ago, called Inside Hamlet at Kronborg castle in Denmark. It was set in the 1930s, giving a whole new spin to Shakespeare’s tale. I learnt a massive amount about what history means by acting it out (as a Lutheran exorcist priest).

 

And this evening I’m watching #RichardReburied on Channel 4, a live programme following the return of the bones of Richard III to his reburial next week in Leicester Cathedral. History made live. What I really like about this coverage is that it’s run as a news event – presented by Jon Snow, with expert scientists, academics,  novelists and descendants of Richard III (including an Australian called Wendy Duldig who came over for the event and is Richard’s 14th cousin)

Channel 4 got a very good audience for the original film – The King in the Car Park – three years ago.

But it’s been a great programming idea to make his reburial  into a new TV event. Well done to John Hay, the commissioner of the live event, & Darlow Smithson Productions, who also produced the original doc. For making us realise that the identity of a 500 year old king matters. 

History has significance – both for  our understanding of what happened then, and for what might happen. And in an election year in the UK, that’s very important.

Channel 4 (them again) did a terrific season of programmes on immigration, including Love Productions’ Immigration Street – reduced to a single documentary after certain parts of the community decided they didn’t want it made – and other programmes. One of them was a doc made by Malcolm Brinkworth of Touch Films about an election in 1964 – which took place on the immigration faultline. Immigration will be one of the key issues of the UK General Election.

History is a big part of SBS programming, but making it relevant and watchable is what matters to the audience. I must say that I haven’t been watching many of the films about the First World War. And in Australia, the Gallipoli drama series on Channel 9 hasn’t been getting the audiences the programme merited. This extended trailer shows that it’s a really sensitive and moving piece of work – well worth 3 minutes of your time.

 

History, and the lessons of the past, are so crucial to understand today. I for one am really proud of the television that brings it to life for us.

Any comments, questions, responses, ideas – all really welcome

Diversity is not an option, it’s the mainstream


Last week I went to a diversity debate in Malmo called Eye to Eye – Reflecting Childrens Reality. On the panel was a commissioner from the Swedish Film Institute, the head of the Kids Film Fest BUFF, and an animation producer from Norway, to discuss diversity in films for children and young people. Moderated by Cecilie Stranger-Thorsen, who invited me along to give my views.
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Cecilie Stranger-Thorsen and Baker Karim of the SFI
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Frank Mosvold and Baker Karim
Lots of good intentions were expressed on the panel, but the discussion was frustrating. There doesn’t seem to be much appetite for radical change. The impression I got was that the director’s ‘artistic vision’ took priority over questions about on-screen representation – or who was making the films in the first place.  It felt rather out of touch with a rapidly changing world.
I told the panel about the past year in British TV and film, in which all the major players have presented plans and funded initiatives to change the industry. I know Brits like their action plans, but they do point the way and I hope other countries can pick up some of the good ideas. Actor Lenny Henry is credited with getting the ball rolling with a speech he gave at BAFTA a year ago.
Lenny Henry
It’ll be interesting to see what happens across Scandinavia. The Danish Film Institute have recently announced a commitment to diversity, and launched it with a study and workshops on casting. I really hope that there is the leadership from the top that this plan needs. The committee including Marie Olesen alongside Mette-Ann Schepelern from the Danish Director’s Association are working on charter for ethnic and cultural diversity in Danish film and I’m looking forward to how much of a push this gets.
It was Pat Younge who told me about the DFI initiative. From his work running BBC Productions, he knows what you need to do to change attitudes and practises. He says diversity is how modern, mainstream audiences view the world, and it’s good to see he’s just started a new indie called Sugar Films, with Lucy Pilkington and Narinder Minhas.  To create content for audiences like these passengers coming off a Virgin train – I really like this ad.

But coming up with the programmes to get to these modern mainstream audiences needs work.There’s been a new push in the US with plenty of new shows in sitcom and drama. But I’ve recently been looking for multicultural formats, and in truth have been struggling to find specific examples in factual and entertainment – it’s all in who is put in the shows. I’ve just been watching First Dates on Channel 4 which is completely diverse and all the better for it.
I’m interested in how Desi Rascals worked on Sky recently – it’s been commissioned for a second series so that’s a good sign. 

The SBS charter talks about ‘celebrating and reflecting Australia’s diverse communities’ and we’re open to ideas. Wonder if I’ll find anything at MIP TV in April? Anybody spotted anything so far?

Murder (and other dramas) in the cathedral

A couple of weeks ago at BBC Worldwide’s annual showcase in Liverpool that I attended for SBS,  drama was to the fore. The big programme  being promoted was Wolf Hall, the six-parter which became the biggest drama launch on BBC2 for years.

At Showcase, BBC Worldwide laid on a dinner in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. This is a dramatic setting in itself – the 5th biggest cathedral in the world, started in 1909 and only finished in 1978 but feeling hundreds of years old.  Tables laid out for 500 guests, lit by candlelight – in honour of the candlelight by which much of the series is shot. Even the butter for the meal was presented in the form of lit candles. Peter Kosminsky, the writer, Claire Foy playing Anne Boleyn and Jonathan Pryce playing Cardinal Wolsey strode through backlighting from the back of the altar. As an entrance, it definitely had the wow factor. BBC Worldwide puts an amazing amount into promoting its big drama titles – they have built in repeat business.  Mind you, there’s unlikely to be a Wolf Hall 2 as it’s based on a series of books by Hilary Mantel and they’ve now all been adapted into this series.

The other dramas in the BBC catalogue showed the range of British series. At the ‘real’ end was Cucumber & Banana, what Americans would probably call ‘Dramedies’, which have played on Channel 4 and which SBS launched this week around Mardi Gras. And from the same profilic production company Red Productions, Ordinary Lies, with Jason Manford & Max Beasley leading an ensemble cast in a used car showroom. Historical drama, beyond Wolf Hall, was also well represented: Da Vincis Demons, Musketeers, and the story of Botany Bay in Banished, written by Jimmy McGovern and commissioned by the new BBC channel in Australia BBC First.

This was how the BBC promoted all of its drama last  autumn, looking back at a ‘lifetime of original British drama’ – especially for all you who can’t get enough of Benedict Cumberbatch. All of human life was there:

 Channel 4 have also moved big time into the international drama market, with a head of international Simon Maxwell and a marquee drama Indian Summers

 I’m based in Denmark a country which has built its reputation for content on its drama. The public broadcaster DR has focussed production resources on producing primetime drama like Borgen, The Killing, and The Legacy – to the detriment perhaps of original factual series for TV. Italy is also making a big push into crime series for the international market.

And as well as making it, people are talking about it too, so the genre now has its own raft of gatherings and conferences. Though in much of Europe, people don’t use the words drama or fiction or their equivalents – it’s just ‘series’.  One at the end of January at the Institut Francais in London, called Totally Serialized brought together French and UK producers and writers. There’s an event open to the public at the beginning of July in Fontainebleau south of Paris called SeriesSeries, which is probably a French pun or reference to a retro pop song. And one of my very first blog posts here was about the Rome Fiction Festival in September last year – though I was there for the factual part of it. 

So from a creative point of view, all very healthy. There’s a recognition amongst government and funders that producing quality European drama is necessary to cement local audiences and the European production industry itself. The Observatoire de l’Audiovisuel’s recent trilingual report on Fiction on European TV channels notes that the proportion of TV schedules that are fiction of all sorts has remained at about 50%. And of that, non-European content in most of the fiction subgenres is over 50% – and most of that is from the US.

For most countries, the statistics on the origin of programmes show that little has changed over time. The differences between 2006 and 2013 with regard to the proportion of European works in programme schedules are generally less than 2.5%. If you want to buy the report, here’s a link  

Fiction on Euro TV channels

To attract  these productions, countries dangle tax breaks and film funds  to entice them to film in a particular area, and use local crew and facilities. Because drama brings the big bucks for a filmmaking economy of course – for US drama, the numbers of people involved, the producers and stars fees, the promotional costs, make the average cost several million an ep. Most of the time the funding  doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the story, though sometimes the money might be seen to get in the way. The new series of The Bridge, for example, will be more Danish, because of the creation of the Copenhagen Film Fund which has invested heavily and therefore demands much more of the filming to take place in Denmark. (the first 2 series were more of a 50/50 split between Denmark and Sweden, literally in terms of the first storyline). Coming to Nordic and other screens in late 2015.

I’ve never been involved in drama production, and would probably find the idea of working to a script each day, with every shot and sequence pre-planned and costed, very unusual. I still think that nothing beats the drama of real life, but then is it promotable?

Because in the end, the titles, the stars, the fantasy is what will draw people to the subscription-based TV models that we’re moving into – Netflix et al. Bingeing on 20 hours of whatever. Not authored singles, let alone documentary or entertainment. Perhaps as long as drama can continue to be supported by public channels and move between dramedy, factual historical drama, psychological thrillers and state of the nation pieces – there’s hope. Or am I being too optimistic?

Comments, questions, links, shares are – as always – all very welcome.