Quality Saga pt 6

Very shortly after our letter (Quality Saga pt 5) was received by Director General, George Entwistle, and despite the ‘Savile’ and Newsnight turmoil going on at the time, our Secretariat was contacted requesting an urgent meeting between the IPS and the Director of the BBC Academy, Anne Morrison.

Chairman, Simon Bishop, and EC member, Louise Willcox, met with Anne Morrison, and the Managing Editor, College of Production, Angela Roberts, on Tuesday, 6th November 2012 at New Broadcasting House in London.

The meeting was very much out of Simon and Louise’s ‘comfort zone’, but afterwards they agreed that Anne and Angela had been positive as well as, perhaps, a little surprised at how well informed we were. For instance, we knew that the Academy and several further education establishments had met recently; a stalemate, where both ‘sides’ were looking to the other to provide funding for training. Also, that Sky TV were asking NFTS to create a one year training course, specifically to train in Light Entertainment, Sit Com and Drama areas – Sky could find lots of craft sound talent mix news and sport, but their Arts Channel was struggling to find people with appropriate skills.

Anne and Angela’s TV features directing and producing backgrounds meant that multi-camera music, light entertainment, factual programmes – studio or OB, live or recorded – and high end drama, were genre that were out of their comfort zones. However, the lack of training in these operational areas cannot be laid solely at their door; the bigger culprit is, perhaps, how the BBC and ITV have chosen to structure themselves since 1993.

The early part of our meeting focused on how multi-skilled ‘editorial’ staff, and audio-ignorant picture editors could be ‘up-skilled’ in sound. The obvious answer was to improve the courses that already existed. Training people that the BBC no longer employed – ie craft sound operators – in roles that the BBC didn’t see itself managing any more, was the greater challenge.

We asked whether the BBC regarded itself as having a ‘remit to train the industry’ only in categories of staff that they still employed, or whether the Academy felt it had a global remit to train all categories, whether freelance or in-house. At no time were we told that the remit was limited to BBC employee roles only, but it was clear that, in practice, this was the case. Hence the almost complete lack sound craft training. Anne Morrison pointed out:

  • That the BBC Academy had been asked to make a 35% cut in its budget for 2013-14.
  • That, in the past, the ‘remit to train the industry’ had effectively been fulfilled by BBC staff leaving and taking their skills, and previous training, with them.
  • That the wording of the Charter concerning the training remit, was vague.
  • That despite the Charter remit, the BBC Academy were not allowed to train freelance people for ‘free’, because of fair trading rules. It was not clear whether those rules were self imposed, or required by, say, the DCMS and, unfortunately, Louise and Simon didn’t ask. It’s on their list for next time.

We pointed out:

  • That the previous craft career development BBC/ITV ‘model’– an apprenticeship where craft departments trained using landmark courses and on-the-job mentoring, progressing staff up a professional ladder – no longer existed.
  • That the BBC and its production departments now predominantly relied on Service Companies to employ third-party craft workers; a few on their staff, the majority freelancers (eg The Farm in Salford, and OB facility providers.) That the majority of those Service Companies were, in turn, reliant on an aging or mono-skilled, progressively lessening-in-experience workforce to fulfil their contract with the BBC. That this could not go on indefinitely.
  • That there was no incentive for one freelance to train other, because the trainer would feel their future prosperity threatened by the trainee.
  • We asked: who was going to train new talent to mix prestigious Event, Light Entertainment, Sit Com and multi-camera, live Features shows? Also, Fisher boom operators, Gram Ops, Dubbing Mixers, Dubbing Editors, Foley Assistants, and TV Sound assistants?
  • Details of the IPS’ own training initiatives were met with interest and respect.

Anne and Angela empathised with our submissions, as we did with theirs, and sought our opinion on how training could be improved. We suggested different training scenarios and offered the Academy whatever assistance the Institute’s pool of talent could provide. Anne and Angela were more positive than the prospect of a 35% cut in funding might have predisposed them to be. We also hope we gave them some ammunition to help fight that cut.

The change in the BBC and ITV’s structure has ultimately led to the dearth of sound craft training, and whether the BBC Academy has the desire or influence to change the business model is a matter that wasn’t discussed at our meeting – but we suspect not.

After restructuring in 2010-11, the Academy appears to have become a reactive organisation, providing training only when requested by BBC departments, with no real commitment to train the wider industry – despite press releases to the contrary (see letter to Chris Patten – Quality Saga pt 2). With the vast majority of craft sound departments, squeezed by successive reorganisations since 1993, shrinking year-on-year, resolving into the foregone conclusion of their ultimate demise, there has been neither the incentive nor budget to request training from the Academy or its previous incarnation. A conversation to be had with the new DG, perhaps?

There was a cautious spirit of co-operation during the IPS, BBC Academy meeting – we suspect the Academy did not want to offer something they couldn’t afford follow through on. Anne Morrison said she wanted to engage in open minded constructive dialogue, rather than pen letters back and forth.

So, rather than pen a letter, we sent the following notes on the training ideas we explored, via e-mail:

  1. Improving the audio skills of multi-skilled ‘editorial’ staff (eg self shooting directors, researchers acting as sound recordists, journalists.)
  2. Improving the audio skills of picture editors.
  3. Improving dissemination of information about, and access to, Skillset bursaries, to freelance audio professionals.
  4. Contractually obliging Service Companies to train new-to-industry staff – perhaps through the Academy?
  5. S.M.A.C.: Saturday Morning Audio Classes; 8-10 people, 3 to 4hrs duration, 40 mins tuition, remainder hands-on. 30 topics/weeks rotation.
  6. BBC ‘Craft’ Trainee Scheme: same template as BBC Production and BBC Design Trainee Scheme – 1 year contracts with placements organised by the Academy, but not exclusively placed within the BBC. [Anne Morrison suggestion.]
  7. OB facility providers: BBC Academy create courses to ‘up-skill’ OB audio crews to climb the audio ladder, perhaps? Assistant to gram op and/or guarantee engineer, then on to sound supervisor.
  8. High-end TV Drama tax breaks: in the offing, with anticipated voluntary training levy to increase funding for training in TV – as the Film industry model. Awaiting confirmation (from DCMS?), some time before Christmas 2012. (8a). An error on our part: Louise said that high-end TV Drama funding would only reflect back to TV Sound Recordists training. Actually, it could also reflect back to Gram Op-ing (akin to Dubbing Editor), sound assisting (Dubbing Assistant/Foley op – at a stretch) and TV Sound Supervisor (similar skills to Dubbing Mixer).
  9. English Regions Technical Operators, wishing to specialise in audio areas, where shadowing of ‘network’ audio craft areas is not possible, as those departments in are now defunct. Possible to re-instate, somehow?
  10.  Skills passport perceived as a vehicle for a ‘closed-shop’ when previously mooted by BBC Academy. Discussed BBC Academy accrediting other educators’ courses – for a fee to the Academy – as part of its remit to train the industry. More kudos in broadcasting than the J.A.M.E.S. accreditation.

The IPS Executive Committee meeting, later the same day, wanted the following points adding:

  • Re 1 and 2, above: IPS Master Classes are in development covering a variety of topics, some of which have been beta tested in FE establishments. Possible vehicle for ‘up-skilling’ editorial and post production staff?
  • Addressing the issue of inconsistent standards and quality of mixes on air, including trying to achieve a quality standard that all post production facilities adhere too. This has to involve more than quoting a loudness value and range, and ought to incorporate some degree of training.

A response was received from Anne Morrison by email on 28 November (go to Quality Saga pt 7)