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Duncan To Depart C4

September 16th, 2009

Andy DuncanAndy Duncan, Channel Four’s Chief Executive for the last five years is to leave at the end of the year.

Said to be by mutual agreement between himself and the board, his future has been on the cards for some time since his efforts to secure funding to cover the channel’s expected £150m shortfall by 2012, has come to nothing, despite potential deals with Five and BBC Worldwide.

Duncan has had a frosty relationship with Luke Johnson, the channel’s chairman, for some time, who will also be leaving at the end of the year, so the search is already on for Duncan’s replacement.

Currently the spotlight swings between various contenders including, ITV’s Director Of Television, Peter Fincham, Four’s Director Of Content, Kevin Lygo and BBC’s Director of Vision Jana Bennett.

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Guinness At The Rovers?

September 16th, 2009

Rovers ReturnAfter years of selling beer from fictional brewery Newton and Ridley, Coronation Street’s only pub, rare in the North, may soon become a truly free house, able to sell any beer.  But it won’t be the choice of landlady Liz McDonald, but the choice of ITV.

The relaxing of the laws on product placement, means ITV and other commercial broadcasters could add as much as £125m a year to their production budgets.  The BBC, being a publicly funded broadcaster,  will still be unable to take advantage of the new legislation.

As revealed in our blog in April, product placement is big in movies and most obvious in the Bond franchise and the Sex In The City movie.  On US television, which fills a large part of Brit schedules, it’s commonplace, with Apple computers on 24, along with Jack Bauer’s Ford Expedition, and Coca Cola cups in front of the American Idol judges, blurred for UK 24 Posterviewers, but thought to bring £21m a year to the show.

Indeed in the first three months of 2008, there were 118,000 placements across America’s main 11 channels.

Product placement is also allowed in Europe, which was partly why ITV and other broadcasters couldn’t understand why the UK government was being so resistant. In the UK, products are allowed to be seen as props or dressing, when provided free, but it’s when it’s paid for – what’s called ‘product integration’ in the US, it not allowed.

It’s not sure when the floodgates will be allowed to be opened, there will be a three month consultation period, but it’s likely self-regulation will stop UK TV screens being as swamped as those across the water.

However, not being slow to take advantage of an opportunity, ITV are about to launch Newton and Ridley beer to the nation and in June this year officially registered the name of the fictional brewery.

At Production Wizard we’re not sure which way to go as yet, as I write this on my Intel iMac, Tweet on my iPhone and drive home in my Citroen Desire 1.4.  Ooops!

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Shape Matters

September 11th, 2009

Poster for the movie The ProposalI saw, The Proposal, the other day, an entertaining movie, but something struck me as I drifted off during one of the less engaging moments,  how did the screen get to be that shape and why do I like it so much?  I know for a fact that silent movies were shown as a virtually square shape, like the old TV screens, and now there are a two main shapes, neither of which are square.

The Proposal was shown, and shot, in widescreen – that’s when the screen gets even wider after the ads and we tense slightly in our seats awaiting something awesome.  For the technorati, it’s 2.35:1, which means the screen is 2.35 times wider than the height, who chose that number and why?

When movies were first invented, the shape of the picture wasn’t a matter of choice, it just had to be that way.

When William Dickson and Thomas Edison first used 35mm for their 1892 silent, Blacksmiths Scene , they had to get the picture Blacksmiths Scene frame between the perforations, so they ended up with a pretty much square shape. Then when sound came along, the picture area got smaller to allow for the sound track down the side.  Many and various film sizes then appeared, though all pretty much maintained the same square-ish shape of image. Some were widescreen experiments using 65mm film but that needed a special projector to show it, so wasn’t seen in many theatres.  The radically huge, and epic Napoleon, was another story.

A classic to this day, Abel Gance’s, 1927, five and a half hour movie, was mostly seen in square format until the final reel opened the screen with images from two further projectors creating a triptych.  The screen was four times its height, 4:1, people were amazed, it was Polyvision but was never used again.  A similar system, Cinerama in the fifties, showed films shot with three cameras and projected with three projectors, you could hardly see the join.  But imagine the cost, producers did and only two films were made.

Poster for the 1952 movie, The RobeAs time went by and more cinemas were built throughout the world, some kind of standard shooting and screening format had to be decided and that was 35mm and 1.33:1, square-ish, but by now everyone had discovered they liked widescreen, so they created this by masking the square frame in the projector and the standard became 1.85:1, a rectangle with almost magical properties.

In the fifties, cinemas were losing out to television, studios had tried everything, colour, talkies, 3D, wide-ish screen, then one day, it was back!  Big wide screen. Special lenses enabled, The Robe, to be optically squashed into the standard frame while shooting, and un-squashed when projected. The famous Cinemascope logo hailing its 2.55:1 screen size, on ordinary film.  Pretty much the same system as The Proposal all those years later – The Proposal is a little smaller.

So we like widescreen, audiences and film makers alike.  For its vistas and interestingly, it’s the way we naturally view the world, our eyes have a widescreen field of view.  But the two formats we’ve ended up with, may be for the same reason, as these two numbers, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1, are significant.

Golden RectangleThe first is very close to the Golden Ratio of 1.62:1, the magical ratio identified by Greek mathematician Pythagoras in 5BC.  This shape was later discovered by artists and architects as a means to create a pleasing piece of work. Amazingly however, various pottery, vases and sculptures from as early as the bronze age, have been discovered to have been made to these proportions, way before it was even identified by Pythagoras, indicating a basic, instinctive, human preference for the golden ratio.

The second is very close the second most famous work by artist and mathematician, Leonardo DaVinci – The Last Supper. The entire piece, a fresco, is in the ratio of 2:1 and the design is constructed in the ratios, 12:6:4:3.  The overall work measures 12 units by 6 units, the back wall is 4 units, the tapestries, 3 units.

DaVinci's The Last Supper

So our preference for movies shown on a simple rectangle, though in special proportions, may be much more than merely for it’s vistas, but may satisfy a desire for fundamental proportions which can be attributed to the very form of man himself.

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The Kent Film Fund

September 10th, 2009

kent-posterThe Garden Of England, more generally known as the UK county of Kent, has just announced its own film development and production fund.

The Kent Development Fund, launched by Kent County Council, has been set up to compete on level ground with the other film funds operating throughout the country with a £200,000 a year fund which is open to applications for development and production of feature films and TV series, and to contribute towards training in the area.

The fund came about after the successful production of Brenda Blethyn starrer, The Calling, filmed in various locations in the county and partly funded by Kent County Council to the tune of £75,000.

It’s hoped the fund will attract further investment from, regional development agencies, private investors and European film funds which will go towards promoting the county as a growing, south of England location for film and TV projects.

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The Truth Is Out There

September 4th, 2009

I noticed there were a lot documentaries on TV this week,  reflecting on the anniversary of the beginning of World War two, seventy years ago.  It reminded me of the fact that at the time, a lot of these films were propaganda, though the audiences watching them in cinemas kept open so they could be shown, were probably not aware of it.

Leni RiefenstahlDuring what became known as, The Golden Age Of Propaganda, a lot of the films surpassed the clunky, Harry Enfield – Ministry Of Information, style films and were made by the true film artists and writers of the day.  Beautifully crafted films with an often darkly subversive message.

For the Germans, documentary maker, Leni Riefenstahl shot to fame with her film of the 1934 Nuremberg rally, commissioned by Adolf Hitler and later titled by him as, Triumph Of Will. Leni Riefenstahl was mesmerized by Hitler, his power and charisma, and the film was a nation-rousing portrayal of the Nazi party which went on to win many international awards for its cinematography, use of music and sound editing, establishing her as the most innovative documentary maker of the time. It disturbed her that the film was later used to great effect as propaganda for the party.

From Leni Riefenstahl's documentary, OlympiaLeni’s other notable work was, Olympia, her film of the 1936 Olympic games, also thought to have been commissioned by Hitler, in which she used slow motion and tracking shots, unusual for a documentary.  Despite requests by Goebbels to only film true Aryans, she ignored him, filming athletes of all races including what became the historic footage of Jesse Owens.

British propaganda films were led by film maker and poet Humphrey Jennings, whose most well known film was the 1943, Fires Were Started, about the work of the auxiliary fire service.   Jenning’s work however was more than documentary and featured re-constructions as well as actuality footage, though this wouldn’t have been known to its audience.

Feature film directors also contributed to the war effort, including Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell, both of whom made short, emotive films giving an insight into how war affected the lives of individuals in the armed forces. Films of how the war affected the lives of civilians and those in the British forces were subtly used to encourage the Americans to become involved in the war.

Frank KapraAmerica of course was the big producer of propaganda films, often made by top directors including John Ford, John Huston, Frank Capra and one by acting guru, Lee Strasberg.  Everyone was behind the war effort and behind the push to sell war bonds to the public, though at the time, the war was far away.

When Japan became the enemy, the cream of Hollywood collaborated on an army training film, Know Your Enemy: Japan.  Frank Capra, John Huston, Carl Foreman and composer Dimitri Tiomkin, produced a disturbing film, revealing the traits of the Japanese to the new recruits.

Propaganda films no doubt strive to present a preferred view of any conflict, in modern parlance it’s probably called, spin.  One of the most chilling, appeared during the run-up to Gulf war one, in 1990.

Nurse Nayirah A fifteen year old nurse from Kuwait, Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥ, appeared tearfully before the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus, saying while she was working at a maternity ward in Kuwait City, Iraqi soldiers came in, opened 15 incubators, took the babies out and allowed them to die on the cold floor.  The testimony was televised and widely publicised to gain public support for Bush to begin military action to liberate Kuwait of the Iraqi invasion.

Extensive investigation later revealed the testimony to be a lie, arranged by Hill & Knowlton, one of the world’s largest PR companies.  Hill & Knowlton had been hired by the Citizens for a Free Kuwait, the girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the USA, had been coached by Hill & Knowlton and had never worked at the hospital.

The truth may be out there, but it doesn’t always present itself.

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The Saint Goes East

September 3rd, 2009

The SaintFor a long time, the Canadian province of British Colombia and its much-favoured city of Vancouver has constantly attracted runaway film and TV projects  from the US and from other Canadian provinces. Now productions are running away from BC.

Producers were expecting the September budget announcement to increase the tax credit currently set at 35% on local labour, but were disappointed to hear nothing has changed. The province‘s finances aren’t good and it’s facing its biggest deficit in history.  So film makers are upping sticks and moving east, to Ontario, where tax incentives are attractive as they can receive up to 45% tax relief if they shoot outside of greater Toronto.

One well established Vancouver production company, Brightlight Pictures has re-located to Toronto to begin production on its remake of the Brit TV series The Saint, which originally ran in the 1960’s starring Roger Moore, though he’ll be luxuriating in Switzerland this time around.

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I Don’t Believe It

September 3rd, 2009

Storyboard appHaving a couple of weeks ago posted a piece about the iSlate, the slate for your iPhone, I came across this and had to post it too.  A companion if you like.  It’s storyboarding for your iPhone.

Now I hear storyboarding isn’t popular anymore, partly because of the cost of storyboard artists, but for me, I always do them.  It really helps your mind create images beyond just a wide shot and a close shot, and helps you construct the film like you’re in the editing room.  It’s also useful to show HOD’s what you’re thinking.

Hitchcock always did them, virtually every shot, and I guess that’s why this app is named after him.  You take pics of people and locations with your iPhone then arrange them in order, add moves, direction arrows, text etc, then you can play it like a pre-vis.

I watched the demo and I have to say it looks a little laborious but then I don’t have an iPhone so it may be very intuitive.  I think I’ll stick to pencils.

There must be huge numbers of apps for film and TV, so I think this will be the last app review for a while.  Promise!

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Get Real

September 2nd, 2009

At this year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, a lot of complaints were to be heard from the TV glitteratti.

Syephen FryStephen Fry drew attention to the ridiculous constraints directors and producers of drama have to deal with in the name of ‘compliance’, that is making sure your show complies with OfCom guidelines. Indeed directors and producers are so nervous about shooting a scene which may cause problems at the final check before broadcast, that they’re forsaking reality for Ofcom’s form of PC.  He quotes Spooks among others, where it seems ok to see someone shot in the face but not ok to see agents using mobiles and not wearing seatbelts while speeding through London to save the city from a massive bomb!  He adds, that it may be illegal to not wear seatbelts but it’s also illegal to shoot people in the face!

Frank SkinnerFrank Skinner complained that people like Gordon Ramsay shouldn’t swear as much as it attracts too many complaints which may cause broadcasters to ban swear words, the comedian’s stock in trade.

And ITV Director of Television Peter Fincham, said the use of product placement, the subject of our recent blog,  is inevitable, to contribute to programme maker’s budgets. He said that Peter Finchamalthough the government decided to maintain the ban on the use of it in the UK, EU regulations would allow it.  He pointed out that viewers see it all the time in US shows and movies like the Bond franchise and aren’t even aware of it, so can’t understand why, if used carefully, such a potentially lucrative revenue stream should be denied to the TV broadcasters.

Looks like Edinburgh was a lot of fun.

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The Campaign Trail

September 2nd, 2009

Tom HanksIn the States, campaigning for president is a big affair whether it be for the Whitehouse or the unions.

All over the Hollywood press at the moment is the campaign for the presidency of the major Hollywood union, SAG, repping actors.  SAG threatened a strike around the same time as last year’s 100 day writer’s strike,  studios prepared for it but it didn’t quite happen.  The writer’s strike caused chaos, lay-offs and no Letterman, so the power of the unions is to be reckoned with.

The SAG campaign is a two horse race, veteran actor Ken Howard v Anne-Marie Johnson.   Howard leads the moderate, Unite For Strength, campaign which wants to unite SAG with the smaller actor’s union AFTRA, both of which have had their problems recently.  Howard has heavyweight backing in the form of videos from top Wooderati like Tom Hanks and William H Macy.

Johnson, the more hard-line candidate,  also favours a merger but only with those actors who are already members of both unions as a quarter of AFTRA members aren’t actors but include recording artists and DJ’s.  Strange as it may seem, two unions for the same trade, both negotiating their own contracts with producers.  And when earlier this year, SAG went a bit shaky and laid-off 35 staff as a cost-cutting measure, some members walked over to join AFTRA.  SAG’s finance’s are still written in red as their dues come from actor’s and when they’re not working, SAG loses money.

It’s thought Howard and his top line supporters will win-out with the full merger proposal as in the event of a strike studios won’t be able to get members of the other union to work instead.  AFTRA isn’t sure about the merger because of SAG’s internal bickerings and the ultimate question will always be, who controls what.

Something they’ll have to look inside themselves to answer.

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