Back in early 2016, Directors UK launched a special career development scheme for multi-camera directors. The six directors who took part were tutored by some of the biggest names in multi-camera TV, including Directors UK Chair Steve Smith.
Steve has since worked with a number of those trainees as they continue to find work as multi-camera directors and develop their skills in this area. Steve updates us on what’s been happening since the scheme ended, and tells us about working with one of the trainees – Jan Genesis – on the Channel 4 show, Cheap Cheap Cheap:
In January 2016 Directors UK launched a unique training initiative, supported by Creative Skillset, which set out to provide six young directors with the creative, editorial and technical knowledge they need to become the next generation of multi-camera directors.
This training not only aimed to raise the bar of excellence among the industry’s rising talent, but with 50% of the selected candidates coming from BAME backgrounds and with 50% women, it also aimed to help create a truly diverse and inclusive workforce for the future.
Since the end of the course I have continued to help mentor and support the trainees as they take their first steps to securing paid work as multi-camera directors. It has been a slow and at times frustrating process, demonstrating the risk-adverse nature of our industry. One of our trainees, Lewis Wright, has been employed by ITV Daytime as a staff junior director on This Morning and regularly directs at least one show a week. For the others, progress has been slow and it has been a lot more difficult to find directing opportunities.
In May 2016 Hat Trick Productions asked me to direct a pilot for a new Channel 4 series called Cheap Cheap Cheap. The idea was to create a new Noel Edmonds daytime quiz format to be stripped across the week. It seemed to me to be the ideal show to provide a training opportunity for a new director. Our experience on Cheap Cheap Cheap demonstrates just how effective in-work mentoring can be, and it also offers a successful template for future mentoring opportunities.
Cheap Cheap Cheap
Towards the end of 2016 Cheap Cheap Cheap was commissioned for a run of 30 episodes to be recorded over a two-week shooting block. I approached both Hat Trick Productions and Nina Bhagwat at Channel Four to see if we could use this opportunity to allow one of the BAME directors from our course to get some network directing experience and achieve their all-important first director credit. I’m pleased to say they jumped at the opportunity.
Under the agreement Hat Trick Productions interviewed the three BAME candidates and selected the person they thought would best suit the production. Nina at Channel Four agreed to fund the shadowing aspect of the training and pay for hotel and travel expenses, and I agreed to act as mentor. The idea was to get the director into a position where they could eventually “fly solo” and direct their own block of shows.
What made this experience so unique was that we could ensure that the director in question – Jan Genesis – was able to take part and observe each stage of production. This included attending cast rehearsals in London, involvement in pre-production technical planning, observing the planning meeting, and being in the studio for the set and light days, and for the main technical rehearsal.
Once the actual two-week block of filming began, Jan spent the first day observing me direct three episodes. On day two he directed one episode with me sitting behind him. On day three he directed two out of the three episodes, before moving on to direct three episodes entirely on his own on day four. We repeated the pattern the following week, so that Jan ended up directing 10 episodes out of the 30 that were filmed.
The additional cost of providing this mentoring experience on Cheap Cheap Cheap was around £3000 – which seems a relatively modest price for helping assist a BAME director onto the next rung of the creative ladder.
Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit
By the end of the series Jan was feeling extremely confident and was very much ready for his next challenge. As luck would have it, I was immediately moving onto direct the second series of the comedy gameshow, Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit for Dave – filming a block of eight episodes across two weeks (this time only one show a day).
I felt it was important that Jan get back into the directing chair as soon as possible and although Go 8 Bit was arguably a more complicated production, I felt Jan was ready for the challenge. I arranged for Jan to direct two of the eight episodes after shadowing me on the first few. This all meant that Jan directed two very different series within a four-week period. I believe this experience more than prepares him to work on his own shows.
Following this success, I arranged to share directing responsibilities with Jan on the next series of Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit, which filmed at the end of April with Jan directing four of his own episodes.
When Directors UK released its BAME directors report two years ago, our findings highlighted that there were no BAME directors working in multi-camera studio entertainment in the UK. We are therefore trying extremely hard to help address this lack of diversity within the industry.
Having previously served as the Chair of the Directors UK Entertainment and Multi-Camera Committee, I am also aware of just how difficult it is for any new director to get into this very specialist field of directing. I believe the training template we developed on Cheap Cheap Cheap demonstrates one way to overcome these barriers and support new BAME directors in getting their first paid directing experience and all important on-screen credit.
What made these schemes so effective was having the support of both the broadcaster and production company, and the fact that I was willing to act as a director mentor and guarantor in case something were to go wrong. We also had incredible support from the entire crew on both productions. Whist I am personally committed to training the next generation of multi-camera directors, I also believe other directors would be willing to do the same on similar shows. The key to the success of schemes like this is in identifying the right kind of productions at an early stage, and then engaging and working with both broadcaster and production company.
To continue to run this type of scheme we need bold broadcasters and commissioning editors who are prepared to support mentoring on both the new and returning shows they commission, and for them to proactively identify productions where a training or mentoring opportunity could exist. We also need broadcasters and commissioning editors to encourage and support independent production companies to provide training and mentoring. Budgets might need to be enhanced or topped up to pay the additional mentoring costs, but as shown with Cheap Cheap Cheap, these needn’t cost a lot.
It is also important for us to identify directors who would be willing to act as mentors and undertake the training – and to reassure these directors that this isn’t about taking work away from them, but about helping support and train the next generation of directing talent. These directors will have a vital role to play in training and supporting a new director but also in acting as an insurance policy to help eliminate the risk of anything going wrong. We work in an industry that is often described as risk-averse, so where it is possible to reduce or eliminate risks we should do so; we do this all the time when managing health and safety risk, so why not with training?
We also need to recognise all the people who help make this kind of mentoring possible. On Cheap Cheap Cheap, although I spotted the opportunity, the success of the scheme was down to the support of all the people who made it a reality: Nina Bhagwat for funding the training; commissioning editor Syeda Irtizaali, for agreeing to allow it on one of her commissions; Laura Djanogly, Head of Production at Hat Trick Productions; executive producers Richard Wilson and Helen Williams; producers Monica Long and Neil Gallery who agreed to allow a trainee on their new production and trusted me to ensure nothing would go wrong; and of course the whole crew for their support, cooperation and patience.
And what did the director actually being mentored think about it all? Jan Genesis tells us about the experience:
Working on Cheap Cheap Cheap and Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit with Steve Smith as my mentor has been fantastic. As well as gaining more experience on gameshows and panel shows, it also gave me the invaluable opportunity to work with Steve, tapping into his experience whilst also being able to bring forward solutions and ideas of my own. This made the whole process feel like a partnership, where one of us would be directing and the other could take a step back and offer support.
Whilst there are sometimes opportunities to shadow experienced directors, this usually only occurs at the final stage of production, after all the weeks or months of prep are already complete. These experiences miss out a large amount of the work and collaboration between departments that goes into the planning stages, and so they never paint a complete picture of everything that’s involved in series directing a multi-camera show. But with Cheap Cheap Cheap I was involved in the original planning meeting, and I was able to observe everyone’s contributions – from the producer, to costume, make-up, the set designer and props team, and – of course – the director. I was therefore able to see how their decisions were immediately put in place during the tech rig day, and then continuously developed and honed over rehearsals and days in between.
Cheap Cheap Cheap is very different to shows I have worked on previously. Whilst I have worked with presenters before, this was my first time working with actors, comedians and such a large amount of props – all within a scenario where the running order can change at the click of a finger depending on what answer the player gives. Being in the gallery during the first few recordings allowed me to gain a good understanding of what information is required from everyone, and to see how Steve approached the various challenges the production presented him with.
With so many elements involved in Cheap Cheap Cheap, there were numerous things that could hold up a recording. What particularly impressed me was Steve’s ability to keep everything moving, ensuring that no time was wasted, all whilst paying close attention to the many things that were happening at the same time.
Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit was another exciting project and a chance for me to direct my first comedy panel show. Steve had already directed the first series and therefore knew exactly what he wanted, but he also had ideas about how he could improve upon and enhance what they’d done on series one. Each day offered a different challenge, and it became clear how important is was to be decisive but also think outside the box.
As with Cheap Cheap Cheap, one of the key points I picked up on was the importance of continuously driving the recordings along whilst also ensuring that we had everything we’d need for putting the show together in the edit.
Since my time on Cheap Cheap Cheap and Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit (including a return to direct four episodes for the following series) I have directed on a number of other shows, including as gallery director on 24 Hours in A+E, and as a late reality director on Love Island (for the third year in a row). Over the next few months I am due to direct my first live multi-camera show in the form of Celebrity Ghost Hunting Live, a new Rylan Clark-fronted series for 5Star. Continuing my relationship with Nina Bhagwat and Channel 4, I will be going to Belgium to trail the Spa Grand Prix, and then to Malaysia to direct the first two practice sessions of the Grand Prix there. And then in November I’ll be back with ITV productions reality directing on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.