In My Opinion: Ian MacKenzie: New talent; where next?

TOWARDS the end of next month – March 21 – will see BAFTA in Scotland announce the winners of their New Talent Awards for 2013.

The awards, unparalleled anywhere else in the UK, seek to recognise the best new practitioners in various screen disciplines.

As someone lucky enough to sit on the BAFTA in Scotland committee, I’m always excited by the high quality of the entries. However, I’m often left with a difficult question following the event: How many of these talented individuals will still be in the industry in five years time?

I’ve sat in quite a few rooms where industry experts have argued over the virtues of encouraging media students to think more commercially. But what does that mean?

In TV terms, that might mean:

* Come up with a killer format for a TV show, let’s say a factual series.

* Sell it successfully to a sceptical commissioning editor.

* Produce and deliver a great show, successfully dealing with constant tinkering by the broadcaster.

* Broadcast to huge audiences and rave reviews.

* Now sell the format to a reputable TV distributor who acts selflessly on your behalf to sell the format for a lucrative price to territories all over the world.

Ker-ching. Easy!

Okay, perhaps not.

This scenario is rare and hard fought even for the most successful TV executives, but is the accepted road to riches in the competitive UK TV industry. Let’s not forget that the UK industry is one of the most established, if not best established, in terms of content diversity anywhere in the world.

So are students, during the course of learning the various aspects and crafts of the media industry, either encouraged or informed of how their own ideas might eventually take that road to televisual commercial success?

Most student filmmakers are just that, filmmakers. They are encouraged to work on the artistic end of the filmmaking spectrum, focusing on the craft and quality of their work. A high focus on craft and quality is not inherently a bad thing, but it can often limit the overall appeal, clarity or accessibility of an idea to others.

In other words, the projects that are developed do not appear to be focused toward any specific target audience.

Many media courses do not appear to encourage undergraduates or industry new entrants to become TV concept developers. The two can and should be interchangeable.

Conceiving, formulating and pitching a concise and clear television concept that successfully addresses the demands of the broadcaster and audience is a rare and valuable skill.

It seems, however, that much of the educational focus on media courses is around the subjective artistic merit or look and feel of the film, above all else.

The successful creation of hit television formats is not judged on an artistic level, but there’s an argument to say that this should be the case. The best and most successful television formats, whether it be Deal or No Deal or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire are both works of art in their inherent simplicity and proven universal appeal.

I suggest that a great opportunity exists for educational institutions to change tack and start to champion the craft and associated opportunities in commercial television. In uncertain economic times, a few more commercially creative young minds entering the thriving and expanding TV industry in Scotland would be welcome.

There is no shortage of emergent creative excellence in Scotland. That much is clear from the BAFTA New Talent Awards year after year, and the filmmakers and creative individuals I have the privilege of meeting every week of my working life at Channel 4.

Principled and passionate filmmaking, whether scripted or in documentary, is a huge strength and tradition in Scottish directors and producers, we should continue to cultivate it. If we can add to that mix a desire to take formatted television to the UK and then the world, so much the better.

Ian MacKenzie is media project manager at Channel 4’s Creative Diversity department, based in Glasgow. His portfolio responsibility covers independent, creative companies in Scotland and Wales.