Why it’s not just a video

Posted on July 30, 2010


That Sondheim mashup video for the BBC Proms with all the orchestral players singing a song and having fun. It’s just a video, right? That’s all it is.

It’s not. At least, it’s not to me. It marks the completion of a big project for me, something I doubted whether I’d get to the end of and – now that I have – I want to document for posterity’s sake.

What follows isn’t intended to be smug or self-congratulatory. More, an opportunity to put a flagpole in the ground to mark something which has been quite unusual in BBC terms. They’re notes – a review if you like – of the stuff I learnt producing it, notes which perhaps someone else who’s got similar ideas might find useful. Or maybe not. Who knows.

To be blunt, the video mashup of orchestral players from across BBC affiliated orchestras is something I’m really proud of. It ticks all of my personal creative boxes. It’s a demonstration of what’s good about the BBC – the opportunities which can arise with the right combination of people and attitudes.

Find the hook and make it personal

The song members of the BBC Concert Orchestra (above), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Ulster Orchestra sing in the video is a personal favourite – Stephen Sondheim’s Take me to the World from the lesser known made-for-tv piece of musical theatre Evening Primrose. Sondheim features in his first concert at the BBC Proms. The hook was easy.

The song is also special to me. If I’m feeling a little on the emotional side it can push me right over the edge to the point where I’m a blubbering baby. By choosing that song, I’ve already ensured the finished product is something personal. As someone who likes ‘creating stuff’, making sure there’s a personal element to something guarantees my own individual buy-in.

Getting orchestra singers to sing the song is a bath-time idea (see the beginning of the video at the bottom of the page to find out why). The initial imeptus – the dream and the thrill which accompanies the dream – usually comes at the most unexpected moment. I can’t sit down at a desk and draw it up. I don’t believe for a moment that any proper TV producers or directors or writers would say the same.

Forging mutually beneficial relationships

But ideas are no good unless you’ve got a network of people to rely on. Awards ceremonies are littered with similar cliche-ridden lines. And yet, what the finished product reminds me of is how vital that network of open and agreeable individuals is in getting something off the ground and chugging along.

At every stage in the production process – from pitching to producers and editors through to recruiting contributors – the initial idea has to be sold. People have to be convinced. Some need persuading. Others need cajoling. It’s at that point that you rely on others to get the idea and communicate the enthusiasm, especially when (as with this project) you’re getting the help of people from up and down the country in return for nothing but a warm and fluffy feeling inside.


And the key to that is trust. I consider myself incredibly lucky, not only that I’m working somewhere I’ve wanted to work for years but also because at virtually every stage I’ve come into contact with people who have trusted me. That trust breeds trust (especially when it comes from the top – see Roger Wright below). It’s the trust which helps ideas flourish. And if it’s helped me then it’s surely going to help other people with similar ideas or hopes and dreams.


With trust comes terrific responsibility. Think of it this way. Your budget isn’t big. In fact, there is no budget. Nothing can be wasted. Be efficient. Carrying that around is vital. In fact you can’t do anything but carry that around if you keep aware of the criticisms levelled at the BBC. Being transparent about being responsible is vital for reassuring the audience that what might appear like some kind of flight of fancy hasn’t be a costly or wasteful exercise. It’s good practice.


But it reminds me of something else I’ve really appreciated over the past few months. It’s a reminder of the joy of collaboration. Persuade people to do stuff they wouldn’t normally do and take them out of their comfort zone (or just away from the office) and watch as you see their ideas flourish.

Be less controlling when it comes to filming and let off-the-cuff ideas feed into the process. The unexpected will happen and the end product will be richer. And in the process you’ll learn stuff off them. You’ll get to know them. You’ll broaden your network of contacts and your next ideas will be bigger because you know you have people you feel comfortable working with.

Personal Learning

Most of all – perhaps most importantly – this video will remind me of the opportunity I had to experiment with an idea and in the process of doing so learn entirely skills to do with organising, shooting and editing. It’s that kind of experience which – despite what anyone tells you – can’t be taught in a classroom or read from a book. You just have to do it.

It all needs to be fun

Just make sure that while you’re doing it you’re having fun and that when you’ve done it you can look back on it and remember it with love.

Thanks to Roger, Pete, Gregory, Gabriel, Angelique, Adam, Victoria, Susan, Sarah and the enthusiastic contributors from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Ulster Orchestra.