C21: Chop and Change
By Clive Whittingham 05-10-2020
Lilla Hurst and Ben Barrett, co-MDs of UK-based production funding and distribution agency Drive, discuss the company’s move into formats distribution with Sky History series The Chop.
London-based Drive, which started out as a coproduction funding fixer before adding more traditional finished tape distribution to its arsenal, is expanding further into the world of format sales.
Its first show is The Chop, a competitive woodworking series commissioned by Sky History in the UK from Big Wheel Film & Television and Motion Content Group.
The 9×60’ series follows 10 of the UK’s best carpenters as they compete for the title of Britain’s Top Woodworker, getting the chance to stage their own exhibition at London’s prestigious William Morris Gallery. The contestants are tasked with creating items and artefacts to furnish an ever-expanding grand cabin in Epping Forest, near London, the construction of which will be overseen by master craftsman William Hardie.
The tasks revolve around a different historical theme each week, including Nelson’s cabin on HMS Victory, a Victorian pub, a Gothic/Harry Potter-style bedroom, a Georgian gentleman’s study and a Mad Men-inspired 1960s lounge. Joining Hardie as co-hosts are comedian Lee Mack and TV presenter Rick Edwards.
Drive has also acquired forthcoming BBC2 series Pub Rescue with Tom Kerridge (3×60’), which sees the celebrity chef and pub owner lend his expertise to four pubs, from Cornwall to Scotland, that are under threat. Five months into making the programme, the coronavirus crisis meant all pubs had to close, with the show consequently exploring the effects of lockdown on the businesses. Pub Rescue is produced by Bone Soup Productions, the UK production company founded by Kerridge and Richard Bowron, for BBC2 in the UK.
Drive has also picked up Cash in the Spare Room (10×60’), a renovation series in which designer Sarah Moore and small spaces expert Max McMurdo aim to help people turn their unused and forgotten spaces at home into lucrative holiday lets. The show is produced by Friel Kean Films for HGTV.
The expansion into the formats space follows the appointment of formats specialist and former TwoFour Group executive Eniela Bella as senior sales exec earlier this month and represented a natural possession for co-MD Lilla Hurst who began her career in the industry working with Stephen Lambert shows at RDF Television.
“I cut my teeth at RDF in the early 2000s observing the genius of Steven Lambert and the creation of some wondewrful formats that still exist and do very well today,” Hurst says. “I always thought that when I went on to build my own distribution entity it would be great to harness that opportunity in fact ent formats. The Chop was commissioned by Sky History, which has always been an important channel to us. It seemed like a logical expansion to move into this area – an intelligent idea with mass appeal. It’s a lovely, simple premise, as all the best formats are.”
Hurst also believes the show taps into trends that we’re seeing in unscripted television during Covid-19, and will be attractive to broadcasters in the same way as shows like The Farm, because it can naturally lend itself to the restrictions placed on productions during the pandemic.
“It taps into ‘make do and mend.’ People have found solace in lockdown in being creative and being resourceful,” Hurst says. “It’s got a comforting sense of going back to our roots, mixed with humour from Lee Mack. It’s a lovely escapism and there’s something quite reassuring about it.
“It was made in lockdown, so absolutely it’s one that broadcasters can commission in confidence now. It’s outdoors, most countries have areas of woodland that can be utilised for it. You can take the Bake Off approach where people are quarantined at first and then work together and/or you can film it socially distanced.”
As for Drive’s more traditional factual entertainment finished tape sales, the company is taking advantage of demand in the blue-light genre heading in opposite directions. While police shows have become toxic amidst the Black Lives Matters movement in the US, the Covid-19 pandemic, and praise around the world for frontline healthcare workers, has sparked a glut of factual entertainment commissions. These centre on hospitals and ambulances to both document the pandemic crisis and highlight the heroic work done by doctors, nurses and paramedics. The difficulty is that demand has come because of an event that, in theory, makes filming in such facilities harder than ever.
Drive distributes Helicopter ER, from producer Air TV. Ben Barrett, Drive’s joint-MD, says: “In the UK we love a good blue-light show perhaps more than many other territories. There’s a huge amount of content produced here. At the moment things that involve medical, emergency, rescues and positive stories with positive outcomes and showcasing amazing work done by emergency services is popular.
“Helicopter ER is produced in a fairly unique way. Air TV are multi-talented pilots as well as producer cameramen – that’s how they make that show. There are a couple of other series we’re looking at now at earlier stages with access to multiple emergency services. We’re not at the coal face but there does still seem to be access being granted, albeit with a whole load of additional protocols.”
“Producers are still managing to make it work. They’ve mined relationships over years and there’s a level of trust,” adds Hurst.
Drive also distributes UK broadcaster Channel 4’s doc The Mum Who Got Tourettes, which speaks to another couple of fact ent trends that have emerged from the horrors of 2020: a turn of the wheel on medical shock docs and more heart-warming and uplifting stories for viewers in a time of global crisis.
“Ten years ago, Channel 4 and Channel 5 were constantly battling for shock docs and that never fully went away,” says Hurst. “People are still fascinated by stories of somebody living with something highly unusual on a day-to-day basis and seeing how they cope with it.”
“The big difference is they were visually focusing on the medical anomaly,” adds Barrett. “The physical side of it was key to the programme. This was tonally quite different. It felt like this film is more sensitive to the contributor – a brilliant character and able to talk about the condition quite powerfully.”
“The general appetite for uplifting and warm and hopeful is here for sometime because the situation we’re in right now – the economy, the virus, the environment – none of it is going away,” Hurst concludes. “People want TV that is comforting and reassuring. Our new fact ent series are responding to that.”