Feature

The Years Ahead For ... Production

Lizie Gower wants to see more scripts geared towards the current climate, as companies brace themselves for another tough year.

When I asked one of our (admittedly more eccentric) directors what he thought 2010 had in store for him and the production industry, he smiled reassuringly, looked me in the eye and said: "Next year, Lizie, everything will be robots."

Though quite patently insane, his vision would have made for a much more interesting and optimistic piece. The reality, rather boringly, is that for most of us, 2009 was 12 months of treading water and staying alive, and my predictions for 2010 could be lifted almost word for word from those of Daniel Kleinman this time last year.

Fortunately, we haven't seen the multiple closures of production companies that were predicted. However, the conditions that could cause this collapse are still there. Production companies' never-ending search to find scripts for their directors can lead to a willingness to say "yes" when financial good sense should demand a "no", and you can only do that so many times and remain solvent. 2010 may well be the year when, for some production companies, even treading water is too hard.

As well as 12 months of just about keeping afloat, 2009 was the year of the research-cancelled job. Wouldn't it be great if 2010 was the year that all research and link-testing was abandoned? (Though I suspect they'll research and link-test the idea and ultimately decide against it.)

2010 may well be the year when, for most of us, that Turkish scented candle script starts to look quite attractive. A fee, a warm location and not a research group in sight; it really could be a lot worse.

Part of the problem for cash-strapped companies is the ever-increasing demands of the pitch process. This will doubtless continue to grow in 2010 with scriptwriters and ever-more exotic picture and movie researchers getting involved, as well as storyboard artists and, hey, why not do a casting while we're at it? To hell with it, let's just make the freakin' commercial - that will give us an edge, won't it? All at production company expense.

A page of typed notes and the director's reel used to be enough. In fact, I remember when one of our directors sent in just a solitary photo with the message to the creatives: "That's the emotion I am going for." And we got the job. These days, it is a balancing act deciding how much money and resources you throw at winning a job - even that absurdly under-budgeted one that will probably bankrupt you if you win it anyway.

2009 was also the year when most of us finally admitted that we will rarely be able to afford to shoot in France or Los Angeles again (don't even think of a multiple-day shoot in the UK; that hasn't been feasible for years). 2010 will be the year when we realise that Argentina and South Africa are pretty expensive too, especially for artistes and their buyouts, and that we are now totally reliant on that bloke with a mullet and a Handycam in Latvia.

As the client becomes ever-more powerful in the creative process, and in the face of global strategy and a need to make ends meet, the danger is that the quality and personality of the advertising declines.

However, as 2009 progressed, there was a positive shift in the scripts coming through our door. As the year went on, agencies seemed to respond to the financial constraints by writing cleverer, more contained pieces of work, rather than throwing us ludicrously unachievable combinations of script and budget and expecting someone to sort it out or make up the shortfall. This is something that I hope will continue in 2010.

Better, cleverer, smaller films will keep terrestrial advertising relevant, keep production companies turning over and remind us why we got into the industry in the first place.

Something I hope we will start to see in 2010 is a bit more clarity in the world of "online content". All too often, people seem to interpret the word online as meaning: "I ain't paying xxxx all!"

As the worlds of broadcast and online converge, and broadband speeds increase, the quality of film expected online is reaching an equivalent level to that seen on TV. Clients are therefore rightly demanding ever-higher production values in the online world, yet they still seem to want it all produced for a fraction of the cost.

I'm hoping that 2010 will see a standard emerge where a "film asset" costs what it costs to produce, whatever medium it's for, and so this grey area will perhaps become at least a little more beige.

But, in the end, maybe my eccentric director is right and this year everything will be robots, and I can kick back, secure in the knowledge that the industry is safe in their metallic hands - though when I asked him to expand, he looked at me blankly as if I was the one going mad ...

- Lizie Gower is the managing director of Academy Films.

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