Let’s talk about television presentation – not the kind of presentation that involves you appearing on-screen but the presentation of the channel: the bit that happens between the programmes. A channel needs an identity just as a product does. There is a creative department that designs that style and identity and ensures that the trailers and promotions for the programmes fit within it.
Every new programme need to be promoted to the viewers, letting them know a new or returning series is about the arrive on their screens. Guess it’s a bit like advertising. There is a whole department dedicated to making trailers and there is a real skill to making those short promos. In fact the shorter the film the more challenging it is – you need to get your message across in a very short space of time, explaining what the programme is about and making it sound like something you really can’t afford to miss!
The creative team get a brief from the producer of the programme, offer ideas on how they plan to promote it and then script, direct and edit the final trailer which will then be transmitted at suitable points in the channel schedule.
There is a whole creative world in between the television programmes and Steve Allen knows all about that world. He has a long and successful career in television presentation and promotion and as one of ITV’s former top ‘creatives’ Steve has agreed to tell us how it works. First he explains how he originally got into the television business:
How I got into Television
“I started in TV so long ago you can’t do it the way I did any more! I got accepted onto a 3 year BBC engineering training scheme in the days they did proper training. Then having got my foot in the door I jumped from engineering to Presentation at the first opportunity which was only a year into my training. In those days you just had to get in somehow, then you could navigate your BBC career through various formal training attachments to try and end up where you wanted to be.
I went from BBC presentation to LWT presentation because they paid more. In those days they had presentation people doing vision & sound mixing on trailer packaging sessions, so before long I found myself making trailers full time. I went through Senior Producer and ‘Head Of’ roles, and ended up heading up merged departments when Granada took over Yorkshire & LWT. Then when they closed all the regional promos units and made everyone redundant, I was taken on as the first Creative Director of ITV’s then brand new Network Promotions Unit. I recruited and lead all the Creatives for 7 years, including the launch of ITV2 & 3. I co-chaired Promax (the Promo Baftas) in 2004. After ITV I spent 4 years starting up the small satellite channel Film24 as Head of Creative Services – however there only being only about 10 people in the whole company, creative services consisted of me and a new guy with no experience! But within such a small team I learnt a lot about ‘long form’ there, making a bunch of programmes on the cheap for the channel. When Film24 went under I went freelance, and have been at AETN (History Channel & all that) for the last 6 months.
So – How do you get into Television Presentation and Promotions?
How many people who want to work in TV Production really understand what all those roles are that appear in the credits? How many people think about the fact that apart from the programmes, there are many more creative elements that go on screen to make up the output of a channel? Trailers, sponsorship stings, station image, interstitials, theme pieces… all of these must be made by someone… welcome to the world of the ‘Creative Producer’.
As a Creative Producer you’ll work in a Promotions or Creative Services department in just about the most varied hands on TV production role there is. We used to be called Promotions Producers, but these days there’s a lot more to the job than just making those ubiquitous programme trailers. Whatever job you’re given you’ll write it, produce it, direct it and these days you’ll edit it as well.
From simple clip led trailers, to impressive original productions that look more like commercials, the career of a Creative Producer can take you on a path from simple writing and editing to full on high budget production shoots with big stars and special effects. Now that’s a ground up route into TV production if ever there was one, sometimes ending up working with budgets that would make Programme Producers turn green with envy.
When you first join a Creative Services team it will probably be as a runner, moving on to become a Versioning Producer. A typical workflow will have a team of fully-fledged ‘Creatives’ to make their pieces of art promoting the next big thing on the channel, and then they’ll hand them over to a Junior for ‘versioning’. This involves taking the finished promos, along with the branded graphics kit for the channel, sitting with an editor and packaging up each one in their numerous versions… ‘Coming Soon’, ‘Next Sunday’, ‘Sunday’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Next’ and the like. A bit of a production line job but the best way by far for newbies to get a grounding in the production process, and to start learning about editing and sound dubbing, and getting to work alongside the creative people they are aspiring to become.
Along the way you may be given the chance to try your hand at making simple clip based pieces. Maybe short previews for the company website, or basic in-credit previews. If you’re serious about your career you’ll be spending your spare hours, often into the night or at weekends, learning and polishing up your own Avid editing or Final Cut Pro skills. You’ll edit trailers for yourself, and eventually impress your Creative Director so much that you’ll get some real jobs put your way, and eventually become a serious contender for the next Creative Producer job that comes up. Of course if you don’t get anywhere in the company you’re at, you’ll have built up a decent show reel and be able start touting yourself for employment elsewhere.
So all your hard work has paid off and one day you get your first full time Creative Producer position. You’re given your first new Drama to promote, now it’s your job to get a huge audience to episode one. Now the fun starts!
You don’t exactly have free reign, you’re part of a process now. Most likely you’ll be working to a creative brief, you’ll know the audience you’re targeting, you’ll know your company’s marketing strategy for that programme, and you’ll understand the brand and tone of voice of your channel. All eyes are now upon you to hit all those marks, and with a creative execution that stands out in the multi-channel clutter. No pressure then!
Not all your projects come with a ready-made programme to work from. The show might be live, not delivered until the last minute, or maybe it’s a strategic priority with a budget to play with. Now you’re in the world of the promo shoot. From a quick simple job filming links with a show’s presenter, to a major theme piece for a big sporting event, the more experience you have the bigger the projects that will land in your lap.
For the big jobs you’ll still get a Creative Brief, but now you’ll have to sell in your idea before you’re let loose with that pile of cash. Your diplomatic and persuasive skills must now really come to the fore, and the more important the job the more stakeholders you’ll have to convince… commissioners, programme producers, marketers, even sometimes the stars of the show…. Imagine telling Simon Cowell how you think his show should be promoted on air!
Once all is agreed you’ll get the green light and you’ll become the Director you’ve always wanted to be. You’ll work with a Shoot Producer, and Location Manager who will set up the logistics. You’ll do castings, brief Set Designers, Props people, Wardrobe, Director of Photography, Effects people… you’ll pull together all the skills you need to make your idea work. Very soon you’ll find yourself on set, or at a location with performing artists and a film crew at your beck and call.
So what do these trailers looks like?
Have a look for yourself. You can check out some of Steve’s work on his own website at: www.steveallencreative.com
They will show you just how effective good promotions can be. A good trailers is a real work of art and Steve knows how to make art!