Yesterday we were fortunate enough to attend the Birmingham Film And TV Summit at the spectacular Library of Birmingham. The purpose of the extremely positive and informative event, was, like the new library itself, to make a clear statement about the bright cultural future ahead of the Second City, and to usher in a new strategic partnership to support the production of film, television and digital content in the area. It was a programme we were highly enthusiastic about attending, as coming so soon after our Inspire Birmingham 2014 nomination, the ideas of showcasing the city’s potential and our role within the region’s creative industries have been very much in the forefront of our minds.
After a brief introduction the event got under way with a talk from Isabel Clarke, the chair of the Royal Television Society Midlands Centre, the organisation from whom we received two award nominations in 2010. This was swiftly succeeded by the Key Note speakers. First, Claire Ingham, executive producer for Company Pictures, outlined her career so far including exec producing BBC One’s hugely popular Inspector George Gently and Sky 1’s smuggling drama Moonfleet, immediately followed by Tim Key, producer of the BBC1 series By Any Means. Tim spoke engagingly and entertainingly about his background, being a son of the West Midlands himself. He also elaborated on the reasons behind his decision to use the area as the base and location for By Any Means, a drama about a clandestine police unit, despite the action being set in London. It was an extremely interesting insight into how such a vital element of the production comes together, and also energised the room by highlighting quality television drama can and is being made on our doorstep, as it possesses everything a production team could possibly ask for.
After a networking session, delegates we able to participate in three breakout sessions. The three we attended were extremely dynamic and useful, starting with the “Getting And Sustaining A Career In The Media” panel. A group of writers with a wide variety of experience in television drama, situation comedy and radio, discussed the current state of the industry. The panel featured Claire Bennett, a writer of Doctors and Holby City, Keith R Lindsay, writer on The Green Green Grass and Birds of a Feather as well as many shows overseas, as well as Doctor Who radio’s William Gallagher. It proved to be a refreshingly candid and eye-opening look at where the industry is currently and where it is headed in the near future.
There was also a workshop on Film Finance, with the assembled speakers offering a variety of perspectives on funding projects. The session was moderated by Stephen Badham from Creative England, the organisation overseeing and facilitating production in the English regions, with Richard Holmes, whom we saw speak at a similar programme at the London Screenwriters’ Festival in October, discussing the West Midlands Production Fund available to eligible projects. The UK Film and TV Tax Relief scheme was elucidated by Anna Mansi, Head of Certification at the BFI, whilst a personal perspective on the triumphs, trials and tribulations of accessing funding by Pip Piper, independent producer and director whom we were lucky enough to hear at last year’s film finance course Show Me The Money. Also present and offering his take on making television in the region was Simon Heath of World Productions, who served as Executive Producer on Line Of Duty, the highly successfully first series of which was filmed around the West Midlands. Simon shared the interesting fact television finance is fast becoming like film finance, with broadcasters investing as little as half a programme’s budget, requiring other production and co-production partners to get projects off the ground. The panel was completed by Michael Ford, founder of Infinite Wisdom studios, who remarkably raised £500,000 for projects last year alone. The vagaries and potential pitfalls of funding can drive filmmakers to despair, but the whilst the workshop was frank about the difficulties applicants face in certain areas, it was also highly encouraging to learn there are options out there.
Finally for us, and in what was for many the most anticipated session of the day, was the session devoted to Commissioning and an opportunity to Meet the Commissioner. Moderated by Dorothy Hobson, Vice Chair of the RTS Midlands Centre, the Q and A featured Will Trotter, whose tenure as head of the BBC Birmingham Drama Village has produced a string of successful shows such as Doctors, Land Girls, WPC 56 and Father Brown, Guy Davies, Factual Commissioning Editor at Channel 5 as well as Mike Prince, Programme Controller of the soon-to-launch local TV station City 8, and producer Tim Key. They offered a useful glimpse into all the conflicting considerations that go through the minds of a television commissioner, from their broadcaster’s remit or commercial outlook, to issues surrounding broadcast slots and discussing the controversial recent announcement of BBC Three’s migration to an online only platform. It was an unvarnished but educational look at a process that rarely receives the attention it deserves.
The final session was the most highly charged but also most inspirational session of the day. A managed session feeding back on the highlights or areas for improvement of the day, discussion soon turned to next steps for the region. Articulate points were made by Tommy Nagra, the recently appointed Head of Business Development for BBC Birmingham, about how Birmingham is a fantastic city but one in search of a narrative, and that this lack of a cohesive united front to present to the world is one of the factors holding it back on the national and international stage. He reminded the crowd, a minority of whom were somewhat hostile, that Birmingham’s coat of arms celebrates an artist and engineer with the motto “Forward”, as evidence what the citizens of the area can achieve with the right attitude. These extremely positive words were echoed by Pip Piper, who challenged the assembled audience to take action themselves, to engage in the conversation, to change and to challenge the assumptions made about the Second City.
Such an impassioned call to arms was greatly encouraging, as whilst this region is blessed with a wealth of talented people, too often the discussion becomes mired in bitterness, rancour and a sense of entitlement about what used to be here, isn’t here now or should be in the future. In reframing that discussion and adopting a new, forward thinking and dynamic approach to the issues the city faces, the overall impression one was left with was that there are exciting times ahead for the West Midlands, and Birmingham in particular, within the film and television sector.
Very soon we will have a summary of the Inspire Birmingham 2014 Awards evening at Villa Park, to fill you in on how we fared on the night. For speedier updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the verdict as it comes in. To find out more about the awards, click here, or for more of the work we’ve done to merit a nomination, click here.