The state we’re in

Fascinating conversation this evening with Colin, who’s sitting on some grand BBC committee that’s trying to work out how they’re going to use their flashy new base in Glasgow once it’s finished in a few years’ time.

Which means they’re trying to work out not just how one goes about making television, but also how one could go about it if given a free hand to write the production model from scratch, and a serious equipment budget if that’s justifiable in the medium-to-long term. Which is not a simple problem, by any means.

I’ll confess to being profoundly jealous of Colin on this, since this sort of systems thinking fascinates me. The central management problem of production is stark – bringing together a small group of highly creative individuals for a short project against tight deadlines is a bold approach, but it’s absolutely routine in the industry. What makes it work, and which parts do we only think we need?

We spent some time tonight musing on the rôle of Executive Producers, who too often symbolise the unwanted extra layer of bureaucracy but occasionally provide essential backup at a critical juncture. I’ve been on the receiving end of both sides of that balancing act – indeed, with Colin as the Exec. in question! – but I’ve also made a series with absolutely no exec involvement at all, and that was bonkers: “I’ve just spent a third of a million quid. Here are your tapes. If you want me to change anything it’ll cost you, ’cos I’m off contract.” No way to run a business, that.

And of course, I’m only looking at it from a production viewpoint. If you’re the BBC you’ve other constituencies to please too. I can’t help thinking, however, that one could progress considerably via the guiding principle that the process of making a programme should be as straightforward as possible. Which sounds obvious, but in all the ITV companies I’ve worked actually going out and filming something has been unbelievably complex. The contrast with one of the indies I’ve worked at couldn’t be greater – they had their own camera and edit suite. We filled in a risk assessment, emailed people with an address and a rendezvous time, and… that was it. Result.


  1. Yes, Colin does have an entry in the Internet Movie Database. As do Patrick, Kim and Dougie. Cool.
    Though none of their entries are remotely up-to-date. Less cool.
  2. I now find myself choosing the first word of a post carefully, trying to imagine what the drop-cap will look like. Is that wrong of me?
  3. I’ve spent the day rewriting wikitext documentation to make it less comprehensive (and thus more comprehensible), for reasons which will become clear shortly. And I’ve spent the rest of the evening with my head stuck in the mod_rewrite documentation, for reasons ditto. These are, I fear, amongst my less transferable skills.
  4. The mod_rewrite docs lead off with a quote that it’s voodoo. This marks a refreshing openness and honesty in technical documentation, as well as being quite funny.

2 thoughts on “The state we’re in”

  1. as indeed I find do I, an entry in the Internet Movie Database that is. Where they drag that lot up from I don’t know…

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