High-end TV levy allays talent shortage fears

The High-End TV Skills Council and the High-End TV Drama Skills Levy are already a hit, according to a panel of experts at this year’s Edinburgh International Television Festival. Nia Daniels reports.

When the UK’s generous film and high-end TV tax breaks were introduced a few years ago, although they were accepted as a huge boost for the industry and a fantastic intervention in general, there was concern that production would reach such a high that it would cause a shortage of home-grown talent and even put off potential inward investors.

The high-end TV levy, administered by Creative Skillset, was subsequently born to provide an annual pot of £2m to develop further the skills of those who already have experience within the industry. The scheme does not cover entry-level trainees but purely those who can build on their existing skills and have a drive to move on up to big-scale, expensive drama productions.

Chief executive of Directors UK, Andrew Chowns, explained: “The levy was created – to be matched by the government – to spend on career development. There were three main aims: To aid key professionals, mainly producers and directors; to aid craft and to ensure a diverse workforce.”

Developing skills for the future

Chowns was clear the programme is not about shadowing, instead, the successful applicants, be they directors or producers, are actively mentored by a director, producer or executive producer on a project, and will be actively working on a production themselves.

Five placements were made by Directors UK last year, with more to come this year. Chowns feels the key points they have learnt so far is that the longer the mentorees spend on the production the better, and that it is crucial to provide support after the production has finished.

Creative Skillset plays a vital role in allocating the large amounts of money involved – up to £40,000 per production is available to spend on producer mentorees wanting to break into high-end TV. The mentors themselves also get paid.

Christina Ebohon-Green, a director who has successfully completed second unit directing work on series The Tunnel (pictured above) as a result of the levy, echoed the positive reaction to the scheme so far: “I worked with Carl Tibbetts [on The Tunnel]. I got to be a part of everything, some prep, some shooting, some post.  I got to see the huge scale of the show and how the script could change so easily. It was a fantastic experience.”

The producing side of things was illustrated by Paul Gilbert who, after plenty of experience in the industry as script editor and development producer at companies including Big Talk and the BBC, wanted to fulfil his “burning desire to produce, get my hands dirty”.

He said: “Those opportunities just weren’t there, and I understand why – it’s a big thing to give an untested person work on a multi-million pound show.”

For more on the High-End TV levy, take a look at the Creative Skillset website

Gilbert made a short film to demonstrate his producing skills, got into a conversation with Derek Wax and Diederick Santer of Kudos who told him about the scheme, and found the timing was just right. He applied, was successful and is currently finishing the last few weeks of production on the second series of Humans.

One of the minimum requirements agreed with the broadcasters as part of the HETV co-producing scheme was that there would be a co-producing credit for the successful applicants. Gilbert said: “Yes, I felt like a proper producer, now I’ve really been on the front line. I have been involved from the start in the writers’ room, and will be until delivery of the show to AMC in January.”

It’s a no-brainer if you want to get into high-end television,” concludes Ebohon-Green.

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