On Tuesday 12th October, I attended the Comedy Conference 2011.
The venue was the Lowry, Salford Quays, at the heart of the new, and very impressive, MediaCentre UK.
The day was organised around a series of workshop sessions, with Q&A opportunities during the pieces, and the opportunity for informal discussions with session folk in the breaks.
At registration we were given impressive swag-bags which included various boxed-sets of branded TV comedy productions.
I haven’t yet opened any of the DVDs, but the Gavin & Stacy boxed-set will probably be the first to get watched.
The formal ‘welcome’ was delivered by Peter Salmon (BBC, Director of the North) and Maureen Walker (Vision+Media, the host organisation).
The first session was titled ‘I have a cunning plan’ (and was backed by examples and excerpts of Blackadder in pre-production and post-production video clips).
This session was called ‘the commissioner session’. It was chaired by comedian John Bishop who put searching questions (of his own, and taken from the floor) to a panel that consisted of Shane Allen (head of comedy, C4/E4), Elaine Bedell (head of comedy ITV1), Lucy Lumsden (head of comedy Sky) and Cheryl Taylor (head of comedy BBC TV).
It was worth travelling up to Salford for this session alone. Whilst C4/E4, BBC and Sky all showed great appetite for new comedy, Elaine (ITV) repeated the word ‘Benidorm’ so many times that it seemed to be the *only* thing she could utter. ITV are a comedy wilderness and, judging by Elaine’s arguably short-sighted comments, they will continue to be a comedy wilderness for the next five years.
Sky showed surprising appetite for new comedy. BBC seemed to be slightly conservative in their outlook, but C4/E4 kept pace with Sky’s positive outlook for the future.
However, as a writer, I was disappointed that none of these TV companies are interested in receiving scripts and/or pitches directly.
‘Go to a producer first’, seemed to be the common mantra. It really seemed as if the TV companies are using producers to filter their incoming post.
This, to me, seems highly unethical. Imagine publishing companies refusing to receive submissions from authors!
There is already a strong relationship between TV production companies and TV stations. I appreciate the perceived need to filter incoming proposals, but to have a TV production company perform this function on behalf of TV stations?
No, this seems just plain wrong.
The other, subliminal, message that this position sends out, is that the TV companies seem to be backing away from producing their own work.
It almost seems as though producers (Aspect, Hat Trick, Biteback, Talkback, Boomerang, etc) will be the sole producers of comedy, whilst the TV companies will become nothing more than commissioning agents.
This was a lively, yet friendly session. John Bishop was the perfect foil against the defensively-bullshitting of ITV1, and managed to get even the friendly C4/E4 in to a defensive position a few times.
The unbeatable surprise was to hear John pitch ‘Shelved’ to the panel, and angle the pitch firmly towards the head of comedy for C4/E4.
(I had submitted the first three episodes of ‘Shelved’ as an example of my writing at the time of applying for a ticket)
Talking to John afterwards, he came across as genuine and as nice as he appears during his comedy routine.
He said flatteringly embarrassing things about ‘Shelved’ and the head of comedy at C4/E4 gave me his direct dial phone number.
A brief coffee break followed.
The second session was equally awesome, but from a very different perspective.
Danny Cohen (Controller of BBC1) interviewed Jimmy Mulville (owner of Hat Trick productions) on his life and experience in TV.
This session had massive potential to be excruciatingly dull, yet it was lively, sparky, funny and inspiring.
It didn’t hold much value for writers of TV comedy, but it was a crackingly entertaining hour.
The third session was a technofeast of geekery; how comedy content might be consumed in the future. It also considered models of monetising comedy content.
Oh, it was lively, Nigel Walley from Decipher (a London-based media strategy consultancy) was full of energy and shit. And that’s the problem. He was London-based and therefore totally full of shit. Digital this. Tivo That. Multi-platform Other. Clearly, not a clue about the digital infrastructure that the rest of the UK has to put up with.
There was another break.
The next session was a discussion between delegates from Tiger Aspect, C4 and the BBC about nurturing new and up-and-coming production talent. It was, unfortunately, production-focussed and, again, held sparse value for writers or aspiring writers. There were one or two nuggets of gold. And a couple of silver. But overall this session missed the writing target by a fair old distance.
The fourth session was a discussion between ‘comedian’ James Corden, and the production companies Big Talk, Rough Cut and Bwark.
I left early.
Overall the day was excellent.
The first session was awesome and it helped me understand the pool – and how to cross it – with fresh insight.
Having my piece pitched for me, was fantastic.
I would like to thank everyone for their time and effort in organising what was, frankly, a brilliant day out.
I would also like to thank Vision+Media for putting the whole thing on, and for letting me network and pitch This Reality Podcast with a ferocious, erm, ferocity, to such a high-ranking audience.
So ferocious, in fact, that the show’s listening figures seem to have climbed to the 200k level, but I’m going to keep an eye on that, to see where things stabilise.
And that’s it.
Comedy Conference 2011.
A good day out.