Career Moves Meet London Live Commissioning Executive Derren Lawford
Earlier this month, Career Moves had the opportunity to visit the London Live offices, and meet one of the bright stars behind its programmatic future – Derren Lawford, to talk TV, talent, commissions, and the future of media consumption.
What Was The Inspiration Behind Launching London Live?
London Live started as a twinkle in MP Jeremy Hunt’s eye – he was committed to opening up a range of local TV stations and then we led and won the bid for London Live. Our aim is to make it a great platform for Londoners to create the kind of channel that Londoners feel is their own – something they are proud of, and over time we’d like it to be their favourite channel.
What Can We Expect From London Live’s Content Upon Launch?
It’s a general entertainment channel with five and a half hours of news and current affairs everyday. We also have a wide range of acquisitions and a wide range of commissions. London live imageSo outside the news and current affairs output, we did two big deals with BBC Worldwide and Channel 4 to secure approximately 150 hours of programming that resonates with Londoners. Programmes that are all situated in London and have a very London feel – some examples reflecting that feel are Misfits, Smack the Pony, Trigger Happy TV, White Teeth, Twenty Twelve and Shadowline.
In terms of original commissions, Jonathan Bosley, Head Of Programming, commissioned ‘Food Junkies’, which is a very fresh take on foodies, very much inspired by the food-tuber generation. Food Junkies has come from Fresh One (Jamie Oliver’s production company), and they’re using a lot of the insights that they’ve developed from food tube online and the passion that everyday people have for food. They find a great cast of characters and some delicious meals for people to salivate over.
The second one of Jonathan’s commissions is F2 Kicks Off, F2 are two football freestylers who do ridiculous tricks with any spherical object that you can imagine, from a grape to an actual football. They manage to rope in the general public, professional footballers and famous faces. I would challenge anyone to be able to recreate the things that they are trying to do – it’s really fun and all set around London.
CTRL Freaks taps into this generation’s need, desire and enjoyment in showcasing their lives in real time online. It sees someone volunteer their entire social network and their lives for a defined period of time, to do a series of challenges set by the producers and a comedy team. They have to do a variety of challenges which are captured for the cameras and published on their social networks.
Then we’ve got Drag Queens of London which does what it says on the tin, its a heartfelt documentary series about drag queens in London.
We have commissioned some documentaries for a strand that will go out at the weekends, called Platform 8. We’re trying to make sure that we get a good mix of brand new filmmaking talent to tell stories about London for London. I can’t tell you anymore about that because we haven’t announced those commissions yet, but you will see them on the channel.
We’ve got a late night, definitely youth-focused strand that will run from eleven to midnight every day, which is called Raw. The purpose of this is to take people that we feel are the online stars of now and try and turn them into the TV stars of the future.
We’ve got a multicultural sitcom called The T-Boy show and the star of that is Tolulope, who’s also a Youtuber called DntJealousMe who does a variety of comedic and music videos online. Tolulope has 100,000+ subscribers and this is his first lead comedic role. Its a cross between Coming to America and Fresh Prince.
He’s basically a rich, deluded young Nigerian guy who comes over to London and lives with his auntie and cousin Sean. His auntie is not what he expects her to look like or be like and his cousin is a mixed-raced nerd. It’s all about how he acclimatizes himself to London life but also multi-cultural family life, so that’s really fun.
We’ve got another comedy which again has Youtube origins - ‘Brothers with No Game’ is a series that currently exists online, on YouTube. We have enhanced it, added some additional scenes, some additional narrative and given it a slightly different structure, it’s the story of four twenty-something black guys that are rubbish at romance.
It started out originally in 2007 as a blog based on real life stories and then off the back of that they started an online TV show. They launched a Kickstarter campaign and it’s got a great cast of new diverse talent – it’s funny and I don’t think it matters what colour you are, you’ve either mucked up in love or you haven’t, but you can definitely relate to it.
We’ve got a couple of things from We Hustle Productions - ‘Nothing to Something’ was an online strand of theirs, and they’ve enhanced some of the episodes that people might have seen online and added some additional original episodes. It’s very, very simple, black and white, single camera, featuring successful people that we believe Londoners will relate to, talking about how they made it from nothing to something.
Have You Had An Influx Of Ideas Sent In To You?
We’ve had lots and lots of ideas from people that wouldn’t of necessarily come from traditional independent production companies and what’s tended to happen, especially with the Raw stuff is that once you begin to tap into a particular community, whether its the black community, whether its the YouTube community, whoever it may be, word begins to spread. So now I’m beginning to receive things – in fact something came in today which made me smile because I’d seen it online, I was intrigued by it and I was trying to work out whether I was going to contact them or not and then they contacted me direct – that’s exactly the kind of serendipity that you want.
Sometimes it’s a case of a halo effect – once you start to reach out to certain people, they then invariably tell those they have relationships with about London Live and then other people want to get in contact. On the news and current affairs side, we’ve got London Eyes, which is basically an outreach blogger campaign, if people want to get their content onto the channels then they can, they can send it in, or upload it directly from their smartphone or computer.
There’s lots of different ways people can get involved and obviously people can be involved just by engaging with the shows when they’re on the TV and via our social media channels.
Tell Us About The Social Media Setup, And How Your Audience Can Interact With The Channel via Social Media?
I think we are very fortunate to be able to launch as a TV channel now knowing what we do about how people consume their media. We’re available on Freeview, Sky, and Virgin, which means people can watch us live on their TV sets, they can preset their boxes to record and catch up with those TV shows as and when they want, or they can watch online on whatever device they want.
We’ve got an embedded social media team across all of our output who are already actively engaged on Facebook, on Instagram and on YouTube. For instance, if we need to be on Vine, whatever way we can engage with our audiences – we will be and we do that as a default setting rather than thinking about that as an after thought.
From the kind of insight I’ve taken from working with multi-platform, it’s less about the platform and more about making sure audiences have as much access to the right kind of content and are able to engage with that content in as many different ways as possible. I think we’re quite fortunate in being able to enable people to do that without having to retrofit any existing infrastructures.
What Advice Would You Give To Producers Who Want To Pitch New Ideas To You?
If it’s to London Live, please do send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, as we read all of the ideas and we try and feed back as quickly as we can. I think when pitching via email, the best way is to try and encapsulate what that idea is in a paragraph, have a compelling one-pager attached alongside that, and if you’ve got anything recorded to give as a flavour – that’s great and it needs to feel like it is distinctively London idea in its tone or in its approach.
A topic in itself is not going to work for us. We’ve had lots and lots of food ideas but Food Junkies is the one that even when you watch it and see where they are and how they carry themselves, it feels like a very London show and it feels like it has that attitude – being modern, urban, contemporary, knowing, these are our sort of tonal buzzwords that resonate and we are looking to have that kind of sensibility in the programming.
What Advice Would You Give To People Interested In A Career In TV?
Its actually really tricky, because there’s lots of different routes in and I think it really depends on the genre of the programme you want to get into. For example, if you want to work in documentaries or current affairs, you can move from different types of journalism and this means theres lots of to-ing and fro-ing between print and TV, radio and TV, or online blogs and TV.
For example, someone that I hired had worked at the New Statesman online and it was there that he learnt to shoot and edit. He then worked on Panorama online but then went and worked on Watchdog, which is consumer but he still did current affairs and journalism, he then went to Crimewatch and then I remember seeing him about a year ago and he told me ‘I’m now directing my first Panorama’. He came from being someone that was a writer, with a sense of what a great story was, and with current affairs, an understanding in journalism has to come before everything so without that journalistic experience, you’re going to struggle to get into current affairs.
If you were to take a genre like comedy, you wouldn’t necessarily need to be in TV to get into TV, there’s a lot of transference from radio and TV, so it might be easier to get into radio comedy and then make that move from radio to TV. In comedy, that move is easier than other genres I would say.
With the other genres you need to be working from the ground up. This is the case if you’re working in entertainment, if you’re working in drama, and if you’re working in documentaries yes but there are opportunities to build up experience in working on documentaries. BBC3 has Fresh, Channel 4 has First Cut, BritDoc have schemes as well. Also in London specifically, there’s a collective called DocHeads which look after and curate documentaries from London film makers and help screen and promote them. They could be any length – I think if you’re a London based filmmaker, then these kinds of schemes are useful because you’re obviously going to get lots of feedback from contemporaries.
When Hiring, What Makes Someone Stand Out?
It has to be a combination of attitude and aptitude. I’ve encountered lots of people that are really good at their job but their attitude holds them back, whether that’s not necessarily being as collaborative as other people, or whether that’s not being as enthusiastic about even the boring things that you might have to do. Whether its not necessarily seeing their role in the bigger context of the production or the company or the context of the environment that they’re in, I’ve seen that hold people back.
Conversely, I’ve often worked with people that don’t necessarily have all the right skills but they have exactly the right attitude and they’re determined and willing to learn and take direction. That goes for me as well – it’s how I try to present myself to other people if they’re trying to hire me.
How Do You Think Binge Media Consumption via Box-Sets And Netflix Will Affect The Future Of TV?
I think it’s very difficult to call because people are still watching more television than they’ve ever watched, it’s just the way in which they watch it has changed. That’s the point I mentioned earlier about access – if you’re set up as a broadcaster to give people access to the content in the way that they want to watch it, it doesn’t matter if they binge, all that matters is that they watch and that they watch in the same number that they were watching before.
Increasingly now with ratings, we’re seeing PVR’s being included, the BBC have brought in Plus 7, which sort of takes into account that cycle. I don’t see it as being problematic, its only problematic if you ignore it as a phenomenon and if you don’t believe that people want to and feel that they have a right to watch programmes on their own terms.
I do think that Netflix is raising the stakes obviously because it’s now investing in original content and then releasing that content simultaneously. I think most people still like to know when it is that a programme is going to be on and they like to just come in on a particular day and watch things at a particular time. Even series linking is still sort of doing that, its giving them that kind of information, giving them that kind of structure. I don’t think its the end of television, I don’t think it’s the end of schedules, but I do think we are in a world of ever increasingly flexible viewing habits and as long as we react to those accordingly then I don’t see that much changing.
House of Cards is actually based on a classic BBC drama, it has Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright playing in it. So you’ve got great talent. The motivation for binging is the same as it’s ever been; great stories, great talent, great content but just gaining access to it in a different way. And actually even Netflix is now on Virgin. So you can access Netflix via Virgin TiVo box and that’s because they also recognise that access works both ways.
It’s not just about people that want to watch things online, people want to be able to access the content online from the comfort of their livingroom.
A Typical Working day For Derren (on the day we met him for interview!).
“Today has comprised viewing programmes that are due to be on the channel and giving production companies speedy feedback, so we can get those shows in shape to get onto air.
It’s also involved looking through some early rushes of a documentary and just seeing what editorial issues might come up with those kinds of docs because the docs that are going to go out on Platform 8 will naturally segue way into a live debate and that live debate will raise topical issues. So as much as we want the documentaries to raise those issues we need to be able to raise them in the right way, as you need to have quite a journalistic lens on the content as much as the narrative.
I’ve also been looking at what I would like the next wave of Raw and Platform 8 commissions to be, I have quite a clear idea. I’ve been trying to work out what their budgets are, what their production and delivery schedules are, whether they’ve got the right teams to support them, and whether there’s anything else that we can do to help them in that regard.
I have been meeting new talent, and been reading and watching new ideas. When we get new ideas, either they come in on email@example.com or they’ll come direct to me because I have my email address on my LinkedIn page so no one can say that they can’t contact me, and I’m always trying to feedback to incoming enquiries as much as possible. Aside from that, I’ve been thinking about things for launch, promotional events and what kind of talent we might like to involve.”