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Thursday, 6 March 2014

Talking Creativity with Endemol's David Flynn

As Chief Creative Officer at Endemol, David Flynn has had a hand in everything from The Million Pound Drop and Golden Balls and Seven Days on the Breadline to Pointless, and we were lucky enough to hear from him at our most recent alumni event at London’s Roundhouse.

Ben Hall (left) and David in animated conversation
If you’ve debated the pros and cons of the new final round format on Pointless, or watched through your hands as a lovely couple from Croydon risk all their cash on a tricky question on The Million Pound Drop, you have David to thank for those moments. Ably interviewed by Ben Hall (co-founder of Chalkboard TV and previously MD of Shine Group), David let our audience in on a selection of gameshow secrets and shared experience and advice gained from 15 years in television…

Entering Endemol on a creative internship scheme aged 23 (with no guarantee of a job at the end), David set about making himself invaluable to the company. Along with partner-in-crime Adam Adler (now an executive producer at Objective Productions), the two created and pitched their own job titles to Endemol, becoming the company's first "New Media Creatives", then "New Media Producers". Until David was offered the job of Deputy Creative Director, every job he had at Endemol was one of his own design. "Solve the problems the company didn't even know they had", was David's advice to the audience, "Being inside a corporation already is great leverage for discussions - find opportunities to take a step back and look around at what else the company could be doing... And how you could be doing it."

David also had plenty of advice for those just trying to get their foot in the door, with his key tip being "Be interested" – have ideas and opinions (good and bad), and try to find new angles to take the genre forward. Though Ben did add a word of caution: if you're going for an interview, make sure you know what shows your interviewer was involved with, and if you decide you're brave enough to rip something they've made apart, make sure you absolutely know the show.

And this doesn't just apply to TV either: inspiration can come from anywhere - the latest film releases, art galleries, books - just make sure you always have a notebook with you. And, without wanting to turn future format creators into extreme hoarders - never throw these notebooks away.  If you're keen to get into development, having notebooks full of ideas before you even get your first job will be a real help, and as David said "Anyone could have the next multi-million pound idea."

Indeed, it was the idea that a blank piece of paper can become worth millions after an afternoon of playing around that drew David to entertainment formats - the concept for Golden Balls came from taking the creative team down to a pub in Brook Green. David was full of behind-the-scenes titbits about all our favourite game shows. For example, the money in The Million Pound Drop is all real, and it's taken to the studio via a secret route that even the production team don't know. Plus, Davina isn't given any of the answers beforehand, so when she's reacting, her reaction is 100% Davina. 

A typically understated reaction from Davina

But it's the questions that David considers the hidden secret of the show. They're rigorously tested and designed in a very particular way to make the contestants split their money, and give Million Pound Drop a real narrative arc: “a hero’s journey” as David called it. They also break one of the main rules for gameshow formats: that it’s more fun to watch people winning stuff than losing stuff.

Because our audience are a switched-on bunch, of course one of the questions was "What are the other rules that need to be broken?" This lead to a discussion around casting and interaction with people at home, as well as points about apps and international appeal . Whilst the opportunities to go multi-platform around the world are obviously good for business, David was keen to point out that the idea and your enjoyment of it has to come first, as well as finding the right moment. In fact, the reason Endemol pitched Million Pound Drop to Channel 4 when they did was because Julian Bellamy had spoken at the Edinburgh TV Festival and told production companies: “Surprise us”. All the more reason to apply for The Network or Ones to Watch, and get yourself up to Edinburgh in 2014 to find your own niche to fill.

Applications for The Network and Ones To Watch are open NOW. You’ve got til March 31st to apply for The Network, and 27th April for Ones to Watch.

We've got more events lined up for the next few weeks in Glasgow and Cardiff, and our next big London event is A Beginner's Guide to The Network on March 20th at Channel 4. Sign up here.

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