Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Running a small tv production company

Running a company is a double-edged sword. I've sorta done it in three different iterations:-

As a video game programmer, I ran my own one-man-band business, living on quarterly royalties and less-than-quarterly advances. Tax, planning, accountancy - yes, all there and all as tedious as ever. However I slept 'til midday, did OK moneywise and got many more plaudits than I should've had...

After a spell as a proper employee, I ran a very small tv business as a separate unit of another company. More legal and money things there - directorships, company secretaries, VAT, tax writeoffs from the parent company... all ending in being bought out for a quid in the House of Lords. (Long story)

And now I run a proper bigger-than-small-but-not-that-big company that I wholly own. All the above times twenty.

You know, mostly, I totally love it. When there's lots of work lined up, when the stuff we're making - and it's a 'we' as that's how I view the people I work with, they're 'us' and 'we' to me - is great and going down well, it's one of the best jobs I can imagine. I get to think up ideas and sell them and decide things and have them done and everything ticks along nicely. I'm very lucky in that a lot of good people work with me - oh, and I say 'with' not 'for', important distinction I s'pose but not something I've ever much thought about until now.

Basically I love going into work most days. I still revel in the fact I made telly for a living. I don't all the time, obviously. I still hate the accounty side but try to keep it under control as everyone suffers if I don't (another long story). As I've said here, some aspects of people in some areas of telly annoy the hell out of me - but, hey, it's my business so I don't make anything for them kinda people. 

I feel a real sense of achievement when I see one of our shows on telly, or on DVD in a shop, or in a catalogue for international sales. It's like that end logo for some American production company I'm too lazy to look up, it used to go 'I made that!" when the show finished. And even if I didn't do the animation, or think up the basic idea, or write the script, or record the audio, or edit the- well, you get the idea, even when I did nowt much apart from suggesting the font for the credits, in a way I did make that as I hired the people and in the immortal words of Captain Jean Luc-Picard, I made it so. 

In its many forms my little company has made over a thousand standalone programmes, and eleven years of doing this is a nice happy thing to have. One of my friends said I was obviously an alpha male who enjoyed being in charge and having total responsibility, which really made me laugh - alpha, me? More beta I'd say - but I reluctantly concede there's some truth in it. Some being the operative word.

So yay me, and yay running a telly company,yeah? 

Err, well. Hmm.

There are some times when it's just fucking awful to be in charge. I'm not talking about the aforementioned annoying people that I might have to work for sometimes to make ends meet - if that's the case I get on and do it. I whine constantly about it but I grit my teeth and smile and get the job done. Then whine some more to my long-suffering co-workers in the pub after.

As I've bleated on here many times, tv is an industry with no safety net. Contracts come and go, for companies and individuals. It's freelance, cut-throat and subject to the vagaries of who is in and out at a broadcaster, or the ad market in Germany, or a lord of the realm deciding to cash his chips in. When that happens, and the work you do seems to have no bearing on the work coming in, it's not nice. Not Nice At All, in capital letters and everything.

I'm sure you've guessed I'm currently going through - or, more accurately, we are currently going through - a Not Nice At All time. Decisions have to be made and they're all bad. And I mean bad, as in no matter what I decide, I haven't much choice in the matter and the outcome is, in some shape or form, bad. I'll try my best to make it the least bad outcome possible that word 'bad' is still there. 

I try not to think I've failed when I haven't managed to get the next contract to smoothly flow from one project to the next. I think I've done well in the past to get that to happen almost continuously for a long time, that I've bridged gaps by funding them myself - not easy sometimes - and I've done all I can in trying to get everything to happen at the right time.

Well, in my totally unthought out sprit of honesty, I haven't done all I can do. I've done all I can do without appearing to be desperate to the clients we work for. Hell knows I have no pride or shame but I honestly think that any business can only do the 'but otherwise we'll go bust and you'll lose the thing you want' tactic only once. I did it with my parent companies once each time, and things came good, and I'll get one chance with a broadcaster, perhaps, but if things don't come good then the relationship is tarnished forever.

The irony in all this is that things are far from bleak for my company, thanks to the efforts of the we's and us's in it. (Can I have an award for Not Nice At All English for that last sentence ta?) We're on the verge of two great big lovely commissions, and have a slate of new ideas I'm massively proud of. It's just down to timing, that's all. And timing has meant having a Not Nice At All conversation with lots of people today.


So you'll excuse me from this blogging lark for a couple of weeks, whilst I try and sort this out. I'm in Meeting Frenzy Hell, and then at the end of the month I've got the Desperate Phone Call to make if I can't make the meetings come up with the goods.


Monday, 11 August 2008

Things that annoy you on tv

OK, so here are a few tv things that I find annoying, plus the alleged justification for it, and what I think the real reasons are. Feel free to send me some more.

Really, really, really irritating. Worst on Living for some reason...

Technically, you are not allowed to have higher volume in ad breaks, but due to compression of audio it just seems that way.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) We do all we can to make the ads louder so you take more notice of them, otherwise we'd lose money. Compression is a good excuse for us as no viewer knows what it means.



Voiceover: "Welcome back to Property Ladder. Toby and Jocasta Idiot-Posh are looking for a townhouse in Bath for around a million pounds, and a crash-pad in Kensington for under half a million." Over this we see clips that we've seen before. There's ten minutes of the Idiot-Poshes rejecting everything and Phil'n'Kirsty making faces, then: "Coming next, have we found them their ideal pad at last?" over footage of them jumping up and down for joy. Fast forward through the commercials and start again. "Welcome back. This time, we're following Toby and Jocasta-"

No. Stop it. STOP IT! I haven't forgotten what I was watching thirty seconds ago. Just get on with it. Don't show the same clips that you showed straight after the title sequence, at the end of part one, start of part two, end of part two, start of part three. When the clips turn up on the actual programme content I want to SCREAM.

Just leave it out. Assume I have a memory greater than that of a goldfish.

(REASON GIVEN) People drop in and out of shows. It's important that new viewers know what's going on.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) Oh, how many do you want? Us producers think the audience are stupid. They've forgotten what was happening five seconds ago, to be frank. If you don't trail what's coming up they'll switch over to watch something else. Oh, and handily it fills up ten minutes of airtime for free.


A Sky thing but very irritating. Last night it was 'Press RED for GLADIATORS MULTI-START'. For quite a bit of The Simpsons, although it did go away eventually. I'm watching the best sitcom ever, and would rather shove a pugil stick up my nose than watch that regurgitated game show. Often it stays there all the time, and whereas if you're watching live it goes away with pressing BACKUP, it doesn't if you've SKY+'d or Tivo'd it. Grr.

(REASON GIVEN) We're offering our viewers extra choice.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) We're advertising the next show whether you're the target audience or not. It's our channel and we disrespect you so much we'll spoil the show you've chosen to watch by spraying graffiti on it.


Last night I sat down to watch some stuff I'd recorded. Top Gear on Beeb2 at 8pm, followed by Britain From Above on Beeb1 at 9pm. Dead straightforward, two shows with a fairly similar audience profile I'd think, surely they'll flow into each other? What with it being Aunty BBC and that?

Oh no. Top Gear started at 7:59 or so I think. It was in full flow when the recording played. And ended at well past 9pm as there was plenty left (ie no credits, at the end of a report). The recorder switched to BBC One and there was Andrew Marr already going with his new series. OK, it was a special series trailer thing, but still - er, why is this happening? I want to see BOTH shows ONE AFTER THE OTHER. Is that so hard for our lovely BBC to organise?

(REASON GIVEN) We engineer the programme junctions carefully to minimise viewers switching channels, and maximise our audience for our shows.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) We faff on with everything like this 'cos if you switch over to ITV and something's already started you might think, oh bollocks with that, and switch back. And we don't care that much about you lot with Sky+ and the like as you bugger up our live ratings anyway.


The latest marketing wheeze is to push a small amount of shows at almost every promo junction (ie the start and end of breaks). So if you watch, say, two episodes of Frasier on Comedy Central- er, I mean Paramount Comedy, and switched on a bit early, you'll see eight or nine promo breaks.

And they'll show three trailers max in those breaks. They often don't consider the target audience at all - ie intelligent, wordy Frasier was packed with trailers for moronic kiddycom Two and a Half Men.

(REASON GIVEN) We focus our marketing on key brands, and research proves more promos for less brands delivers eyeballs.

(SECRET ACTUAL REASON) We have to make less trailers which saves us money. Our average viewer only watches fifteen minutes a week (ie one episode a fortnight) or something - if we're lucky - so they won't realise this.


A small selection of gripes there, mainly culled from watching the tv on a rainy Sunday. I will no doubt return to it.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Worst. TV. Ever

American tv is coming up with some corkers at the moment. Here are three, in reverse order of worstness:-

This show consists of people eating until they throw up. Or 'hurl'. The last one to throw up wins. That's genuinely it. Nothing else. Just eat and puke.

A competition between two doggie shows here. Firstly a reality show currently airing where twelve dogs and their owners move into a house and compete against each other in challenges, one being kicked off each week. Naff title though, Greatest American Dog. Nah, let's put this one second.


But with the best title ever. It's about grooming dogs. So it's called.... drum roll... Groomer Has It. Hahahahahhhhahahahhahahah. Campy people who 'style' dogs compete in front of campier judges. Perfect.

C'mon British tv, we need to raise our game. Nothing on air over the summer is as crap as this. Well, apart from Big Brother. It's so far off my radar I didn't realise it was still on. The papers and mags I read don't mention it at all, and no-one has been racist or violent (for a few weeks) so it's not on the news. For some reason I'm conditioned never to try C4 at 9pm either so I don't even hop by it on the lookout for a show about dogs eating too much they vomit (hey, that's my copyright, OK?)

But British tv has one potential winner, something so bad in concept it might be unmissable. A big cheer to ITV 2 and a title to die for :-

Celebrities! Being cabin crew on an airline! And voted off by the passengers! Can you imagine the horror of turning up for a 5am charter flight and it's staffed by, say, Jodie Marsh, someone off of Hollyoaks and Brian Dowling*. Truly, deeply, utterly rubbish. Roll on the Autumn!

*I know, I know - he used to be a trolley dolly, and probably is back on Ryanair now, but he's still someone you really wouldn't want making knob gags at you at thirty thousand feet.