Production company Kudos

Tin Star © Kudos Productions

Kudos is one of the world’s leading production companies and part of the Endemol Shine Group production powerhouse. Kudos has worked with the best global talent to create, develop and produce popular, innovative and award-winning, drama and comedy series.

Over the years, Kudos has taken part in four of the current and past programmes supported by the High-end TV Investment Fund to provide on-the-job training and professional development within production companies. It has supported some 40 people, helping entry-level trainees embark on their career, and helping established professionals to step up to their next role in high-end TV drama.

Kudos has taken on 28 trainees through Trainee Finder, including dedicated places for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) trainees.

It has supported eight trainees to Make a Move to the next level in their careers across various high-end TV roles.

And at director and producer level, Kudos has opened up placements to two experienced professionals: on the Directors UK High-end Drama Directors Skills Development Programme and the High-end TV Drama New Producers Programme, to help them make the transition to high-end TV drama.

Training at the entry level should not be limited to those who come from backgrounds where they can rely on their families for financial support... It’s important that entrants are paid a living wage whilst they learn on the job, and that the training they get gives them real skills. The bursaries that the HETV levy funds at that level, are essential to ensure equality of opportunity. No one works here, at Kudos, on unpaid internships.

Diederick Santer, CEO of Kudos

Diederick Santer, Chief Executive Officer at Kudos, says, “We’re a big, big, company, part of the ecology of production, and we’ve always been committed to building and working with diverse teams, and providing on-the-job training. Everyone wins – our productions, the crew and talent who really want the opportunity to enter the industry or move on up to the next stage in their careers, plus the UK production industry as a whole. The crew and talent nurtured on UK productions, whether in-house or freelance, move between productions and production companies. They stay, they go away, and they come back – so we all benefit from their enriched experience.”

Diederick talks about what an exciting time it has been in the industry over the last few years, “It’s such a time of growth with productions of all shapes and sizes. There have always been great TV and film crews in this country, but the demand for them is growing. We can’t always expect to find the people we need or expect them to arrive to us, fully formed. The truth is, whilst it’s hard for us to find people, it’s also hard for people to break into the industry, leaving a skills gap.” The worst risk you can take, he says, “both for productions and for individuals, is to fill gaps with people from more junior levels who just aren’t ready for the demands of the more senior role. It’s unfair to expose someone to a position they’re not ready for. It can also jeopardise the quality and budget of productions. We need to offer people the opportunities to step in and step up in a controlled and supported environment. Basically, we need to invest in the future and deepen the pool of talent in this country, across the board. It’s our duty.”

The High-end TV Investment Fund provides a source of funding to develop talent that meets these objectives. Kudos has been involved from the start, dedicating time and resources to shaping how the levy money is used, prioritising training needs, designing schemes, and ensuring equal access. As Diederick says, “Training at the entry level should not be limited to those who come from backgrounds where they can rely on their families for financial support and can afford to wait around until they hear about the chance of a day’s work experience, here or there, as an unpaid runner. It’s important that entrants are paid a living wage whilst they learn on the job, and that the training they get gives them real skills and something chunky for their CVs. The bursaries that the HETV levy funds at that level, are essential to ensure equality of opportunity. No one works here, at Kudos, on unpaid internships.”

He is adamant that, “It is incredibly important that high-end TV drama productions pay their dues into the high-end TV levy.” Booming production in high-end TV in the UK last year saw a record £2.6 million paid in contributions to the fund, from more than 100 productions. 

Kudos journey

Alison Barnett, Head of Production at Kudos, has been involved in discussions about how the High-end TV Investment Fund should be used since the first consultations with ScreenSkills following the government’s introduction of the HETV tax relief. “Right at the beginning, Kate O’Conner from Creative Skillset [now ScreenSkills] got us all together – heads of production – and put it plainly. She said, “The levy’s a fact, and it’s in your interests to pay into it and define the training schemes it will fund and become beneficiaries of it as well. It’s a pot of gold. So, how are we going to spend it together to benefit our industry?” It was such a positive approach – and believe me, we had no shortage of ideas.

In the beginning, a handful of heads of production engaged in the process, but today some four to five years later, Alison says, “We’ve spread the word and the money over different schemes – and that’s how it’s evolved. In the beginning, there were maybe 15 of us in the heads of production group – but today there are around 80 of us. It’s mainly London based, with only a few regional, unfortunately, but we’re trying to change this.”

Alison is passionate that every independent production company pays into the levy on their qualifying spend productions; “Kudos really considers it a duty, to put something back into the industry that has made us into what we are  today. It’s a really selfish attitude to consider not contributing to the levy. We’ve had some heavy discussions with some of the top indies to reinforce how important it is to be investing in the future of their workforces via paying in."

Going back a few years, Kudos' training programmes were often funded in-house. The company provided its own training and there were several BBC traineeships. As time has moved on, the financial margins involved in delivering high-end TV drama commissions meant these training programmes could not be sustained by indies. The BBC also cut many of its opportunities. A gap emerged in structured training. “It was a massive hole. Where was the next generation coming from?” Alison says.

“Now,” she says, “with the levy we are addressing this gap, and overcoming the concern that people should not be moved up too quickly just to fill a gap - without the benefit of mentoring and shadowing the more senior role, so that they and the production are confident about professional delivery.”

Alison is a member of the High-end TV Council, which works with ScreenSkills’ high-end TV management group and its industry working parties to ensure that the schemes funded are relevant to the industry’s practical needs. “Together we identify training needs, determine priorities, and develop innovative training programmes and partnerships that provide diversity of opportunity.”

The programmes supported through ScreenSkills are constantly and rapidly evolving to meet those industry needs. Alison says, “From the Trainee Finder entry-level scheme for key roles in production, we quickly saw the need to help industry professionals to move up to the next role on their career ladder. From that, we identified a shortage of producers for whom we devised a dedicated step-up scheme. To be successful, the training opportunities that the levy supports need to be as responsive in real-time as is practical.”

Kudos has supported over 40 traineeships through the levy so far. As Alison says, “We’ve had over 20 entry-level trainees covering roles from costume, sound, art department, make-up - to scripts, editing, locations and production runners. Added to that we’ve had real talent on the schemes helping those more established in the industry to step up to the next role - script editors, production managers, production coordinators, producers and directors. It’s been very exciting and rewarding.”

Evaluating training schemes

The first trainees to be funded were Katie Carpenter and Kyri Zindilis. The scheme was known as the Challenge Fund – an earlier version of Stepping Up, and today’s Make a Move. Katie worked with her mentor and others involved in the process of script editing projects in development. She started as a development assistant but by the end of the placement she’d script edited a 30-minute pilot and been placed on The Tunnel, series two, as assistant script editor. Kyri had intensive on the job training and mentoring to step up to the next level of development assistant in the Lovely Day company team, under the Kudos umbrella. “Both Katie and Kiri had got so far in their careers. So it was brilliant to be able to help them, through the scheme, to move up the next step,” Alison says. “Both projects were a huge success.”

Alison had mixed feeling about the Trainee Finder scheme at the beginning. “I don’t think any of us thought it through well enough in terms of applying for the scheme and follow-through after we’d identified the trainees. There wasn’t really sufficient mentoring, and some floundered a bit and fell by the wayside. The application process was just so bureaucratic. Not what the industry wanted!”

It's been a learning curve but we worked with ScreenSkills to iron out the problems... The way that the schemes that support training at the higher level have evolved is really good. Two great examples are today’s Make a Move and Directors UK’s High-end TV Drama Directors Career Development Programme.

Alison Barnett, head of production at Kudos

“It’s been a learning curve,” says Alison, “but we worked with Creative Skillset to iron out the problems and to make the process more transparent and manageable. It’s a valuable scheme and now it includes a three-day induction course, so trainees know what to expect when they arrive and how to behave on set.”

Lillie King, Production Manager at Kudos, adds “Day one, it’s scary for trainees to suddenly find themselves on set. It’s so fast-paced, people don’t have the time to tell you what to do. On the plus side, today the application procedures are actually quite straightforward.”

Alison adds, “The way that the schemes that support training at the higher level have evolved is really good. Two great examples are today’s Make a Move and Directors UK’s High-end TV Drama Directors Career Development Programme. Vicki Delow and Chistiana Ebohon have great stories to tell.”

Make a Move: Vicki's story

Vicki Delow had been with Kudos for a while. “She was definitely producer material,” says Alison, “so we nominated her for the Make a Move scheme to become a producer. She had on-the-job mentoring and shadowing on The Tunnel, stayed in-house and went on to co-produce Tin Star. Now she’s just finished producing Humans, series three.”    

Vicki says, “Over the years I was finding that being an experienced development producer and script editor wasn’t enough to convince people to give me a shot at producing a series myself. I was struggling to make that move upwards and show that I can take responsibility for this massive thing. So when Kudos said, ‘There’s this scheme, how do you feel about being a trainee producer on The Tunnel?’ - I jumped at it!”

Vicki joined the crew, shadowing Julian Stevens, the producer. She spent all day on the set and in the production office with the crew and production team, working from prep until the shoot was finished. “It was such a great, rounded, experience. I was involved in all sorts of aspects from press publicity, marketing, correspondence for the show, to going out on recces and taking part in production meetings. It was such a safe way to learn what it actually meant to work on a shoot that long, and the kinds of issues faced by a crew every single day. Julian was great. The best thing I learnt was that I could do it! It gave me so much confidence.”

The experience also taught Vicki a lot on a personal level. “My family and I learnt that we could find a way to make things work so that I could go off and do something as all-consuming as that. It’s a tough call for people when you have kids, and particularly for women of my age. You’re hardly at home for months on end, which is a strain on the family. But I’m so lucky. I have a really supportive husband.”

Vicki is now a freelance producer, working for Kudos on Humans. “I am so grateful to Kudos. I worked for them in-house for quite a time, and I loved it. I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to step-up, and I’d love to work with them again and again - so long as they’ve got a show for me! Make a Move was a great experience. I was really lucky.”

High-end TV Drama Directors Skills Development: Christiana's story

Diederick Santer says, “Christiana is an experienced director, and she came to us with many credits under her belt for continuing TV drama and short films, but the move into high-end TV drama was proving elusive. The placement on The Tunnel helped, I think, to overcome some of the barriers, and it’s given Christiana a new lease of life in her directing career. She’s now on Call the Midwife, which is really great – even though it means she’s unavailable for one of our shows that we’re keen to talk to her about”

Alison adds, “We put Christiana in touch with agents with really good contacts in high-end TV drama, to help generate proper follow up to her placement – she’s now with Mark Casserato”

From a degree in Communication and Media Production, Christiana won a place on the Freelance Training for Film and Television (FT2) scheme which was when she decided she wanted to direct. Three years later, after studying directing at the National Film and Television School, reality hit, “It is really difficult to get work if you don’t have a network, and I didn’t know anyone in the industry. I didn’t know how to go about getting work. Jobs just aren’t advertised.”

Her break came with Channel 4 on Coming Up, then with ITV and a comic monologue. “Those two projects helped me make my way into continuing drama, and I’ve really enjoyed directing series like Eastenders, Doctors, Hollyoaks, and shadowing on Holby and Casualty. But making that step into high-end TV drama just wasn’t happening. Then, everything came along at once.” Christiana took part in a mentoring scheme with Women in Film and Television, and Directors UK contacted her about the High-end TV placement. “They said we can’t understand it, you’re so experienced but you don’t seem to be progressing forwards.”  It wasn’t all plain sailing until Kudos called about The Tunnel and she went along to meet its director, Carl Tibbetts, and producer, Julian Stevens. “They were both just so positive, saying - when you join us you’ll have a chance to do a bit of this and a bit of that! Wow, I realised it was actually going to happen. I was so excited.”

“The whole experience was really valuable for me. The paid placement meant I could afford to take time off from my regular directing. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to focus the days available on areas I hadn’t worked in before, and build my experience - scenes with special effects and armoury, and the editing process. It was absolutely brilliant that I was given the chance to direct a second unit scene, set in France, with helicopters, police cars and armed police. Everything on high-end TV is just such a bigger scale than the drama on which I’d been working. More time, more people around providing support, bigger decisions, amazing scripts, incredible talent. It really boosted my confidence. It was great to know that I could do it and that apart from scale, it required the same skills I’d been using in continuing drama. It worked really well and opened the door to meeting people in high-end TV drama who were interested in working with me.”

At the end of the placement, things took off. Christiana directed a high-end short film Some Sweet Oblivious Antidote with the support of actors, Sir Lenny Henry, Wunmi Mosaku, and Colin Salmon amongst others – which was long-listed for a BAFTA. She went on to direct the BBC period drama, Father Brown and was accepted on the Continuing Drama Directors Scheme for the BBC’s Holby City. Last year she was selected for the BAFTA Elevate programme to help directors from under-represented groups in the industry progress to the next stage of their career. “I’m directing Father Brown now – which I really enjoy – and I’m so excited to be starting on Call the Midwife next month. Kudos and the Directors UK scheme really opened doors for me. It was a brilliant experience, so a very big thank you to them both!” 

The future for Kudos and the industry

Alison Barnett says, “The future looks good so long as the industry, across the board, contributes its fair share to the HETV levy! The industry also needs to really engage with setting training priorities and developing and evaluating the schemes.  We all benefit from filling the skills gaps and bringing on a new generation of people to work on high-end TV drama.”

Lillie adds, “At entry level, Trainee Finder is such an important concept. I would have loved the opportunity if it had been around when I was trying to get into TV. It’s particularly valuable if you have no contacts, no way into the industry. I think there will always be a need for it so long as it’s delivered well. I mean, in terms of selecting really committed applicants and providing meaningful training. You need to be able to monitor that you’re getting the right people.”

Alison agrees and makes the point that there also needs to be concerted follow-through to track developments in the careers of those taking part, and wonders whether this is something that Creative Skillset will take on. As to next priorities, Alison says, “The industry environment changes. Training and professional development need to keep pace. For instance, a lot of line-producers have gone in-house, so we really need to start looking at the next generation of up and coming line-producers.”

To find out more about ScreenSkills-supported schemes in learning and development click here for career progression openings and here for Trainee Finder

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