Brits Who Cracked America (Part 1)

Last night (Tuesday), BAFTA New York invited Brits In The Box members to their inaugural ‘Brits Who Cracked America’ event, held at the Crosby Street Hotel.

The panelists were:

Simon Andreae – EVP, Alternative Entertainment, Fox

Frances Berwick – President, Bravo and Oxygen Media

Michael Davies – President, Embassy Row

… co-incidentally all three panelists are alumni of Edinburgh University. Simon and Michael first met and became close friends there, and the bromance between them played out throughout most of the evening.

The moderator was:

Rob Sharenow – EVP & GM of Lifetime … who, in reference to the love fest, asked if the hotel had any rooms available.

It was a fun evening, with some absolute gems including American producers being compared to Viagra by Simon Andreae.

Brits Who Cracked America: BAFTA New York
Brits Who Cracked America: BAFTA New York

Here is our loose round up of the first half hour of the one hour event (part 2 to follow shortly).

… On How They Ended Up In The USA

Frances Berwick came to the USA for 18 months and remains here 18 years later. She spoke of the culture shock of corporate America having arrived from Channel Four (a commercial network still mandated to hit certain diversity benchmarks). It didn’t take long for her to reach her stride, and after just a few months she was out finding an orthodontist and buying panty hose!

“…I thought it was a huge cultural shock when I came over … cable was relatively new in the UK, I didn’t even know what an affiliate was … Every day it’s like hearing a language you don’t know and trying to figure out what the f*ck is going on”.

For Michael Davies, the dream started around the age of 13 when his brother William returned from a US boarding school as Bill. Back then it was a radical idea for a boy from South London to want to live in the States, but he decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps when Bill made it as a Hollywood scriptwriter. Many people from Michael’s university days ended up working in independent television. So, when Michael moved to the West Coast, he was suddenly the only person they knew in the industry in America. This led to him being given the rights to every non-fiction, reality and studio based variety show:

“I happened to be British, in the right time, in the right place, and I was incredibly fortunate”

Simon Andreae, by his own definition was just an average looking slightly nerdy guy when he met Michael at uni. He’d make frequent trips to the US to hang out with his buddy and credits Michael for teaching him everything he knows (or still does not know) about American television.

Simon describes his transition to work in the US as ‘horrible’. Enticed by a four year contract and an output deal by network executive Mike Darnell, he arrived to discover his boss had fallen out with one partner, and the other had been side-lined and had no authority. Simon was relocated to an office re-purposed from a converted stable, and was reprimanded by HR for attempting to display pictures of cadavers on his office walls (from his show Autopsy Live). Apparently displaying images of naked cadavers can create a hostile work environment for colleagues.

Channel Four: Autopsy Live

The punches didn’t stop there. On meeting Exec Angela Shapiro he was introduced to the American phrase, “One Foot in, One Foot Out”. She went on to tell him:

“If you’re going for innovation at least route it in something that’s familiar. You’re kind of 3 feet out all the time. No one is going to sign a single one of your shows”.

… On the “Dorothy We’re Not In Kansas anymore” moment or Morrissey we’re not in Manchester anymore moment (Rob Sharenow’s words, not ours):

Simon Andreae:

“ … I learned that all titles mean completely different things, so you’re trying to hire people and you find out that your Producer had never been on set or produced anything, and your EP has never been on set. You ring up for references and you don’t know anyone. All you have is the agency who is paid to say that everyone is brilliant. Nobody will give an honest reference for anyone … I hardly ever fired anyone my whole life, and the first year I never stopped firing people … So the degrees of veils that you have to draw back to figure out if somebody knows which way up a camera goes was bizarre”.

 

Michael only worked briefly in the UK as a Runner the rest of his career has been in the USA. He spent seven years trying to translate the two languages of television without success, until making ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’ for ABC:

“…[the show]  was the first show that worked because my bosses allowed me to make it exactly the same. Literally we measured the distance from the cameras to the stage … everything was done identically to the British show …”

 

… On the differences between acting like a British Producer and acting like an American Producer

Frances noted that there are still some major creative differences including storytelling, casting and pacing:

“…you go for character over all else and in the UK and you don’t really care about appearances … I think they [Brits] have got a bit more concerned in how people look. … There’s definitely an attractiveness factor now … It was also more of a pacing thing, which has almost become the same but not quite … You tell stories in a different way in the UK, much more exposition …”

Citing Gogglebox as an example (known as The People’s Couch in the USA), the UK version is social anthropology depicting a slice of life. Whereas the American version is much more punch line, sound bite and funny moment driven. On these differences:

“… There is something structural because the commercial breaks are longer; you have to build a cliff-hanger in each commercial break. We [USA] also don’t label specifically that we’re going into a commercial break, whereas in the UK they still do bumpers right? So you’re sign-posted …”

Simon Andreae compared UK Producers to cough medicine and American Producers to Viagra – on account of them having to create instant hits:

“ … It’s [your series] got to start urgently and be in a state of constant arousal. There are so many more commercials here. When you first come here and watch American television, and find the shows in between the commercials. The commercials are on so quickly that if the shows don’t move at that pace there will be a lull of energy. It’s a noisier environment, and they are built to have a much longer shelf life. When we hire producers or think about which production companies to attach to the shows, you’re not just thinking about the deep and the rewarding stories, you’re much more thinking of it as building product on a shelf that you hope will endure…”

 

Brits In The Box is a community of British TV Professionals working overseas.

Find out more at: www.britsinthebox.com

Or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s