Flourishing creative ideas at The Gate Films

By The Drum, Administrator

January 24, 2008 | 8 min read

Archetypal Renaissance man, Leonardo Da Vinci is heralded by many as the most diversely talented person to ever have lived. In addition to his masterstrokes with a brush, Leo was a sculptor, scientist, mathematician, writer, engineer, architect, inventor, botanist, and musician. While undoubtedly his achievements are unique, he’s not the only person in history to have demonstrated an important fact: that the creative gene is not constrained to just one discipline; that those blessed with an ability to conjure and innovate can do so across a wide array of platforms.

It’s this line of thinking that has led The Gate Films to move forward with its latest project – a members-only online forum, where advertising creatives develop ideas for film, TV and other media channels.

“As a group of film-makers, we’ve always been chomping at the bit to make things other than TV commercials,” says Simon Lewis, joint managing director at the Manchester, Edinburgh and London-based production firm.

Lewis admits that commercials are the bread and butter for the firm, but is excited by the prospect of seeing the talent possessed within the ad industry set free to work across a variety of other platforms.

“We obviously spend a lot of time with creatives when shooting commercials and, to a man, I can’t think of any that haven’t got ideas for TV shows, comedies, scripts for short films, etc. Very often they’ve already written the scripts.

“But, because they’re kind of closeted by what they do for a living, they actually don’t have a lot of confidence in their ideas outside of advertising. A lot of the talented writers in this country work within advertising agencies and the TV industry, for some reason, isn’t tapping into their skills.”

Lewis attended a number of broadcast conferences in 2007, exploring the opportunities that exist for The Gate to expand into programming and film-making, and has been keen to get the viewpoint of commissioning editors.

“They need more creativity and more ideas, not the formulaic ones they always seem to get,” he says.

“When it comes to pitching ideas, as the commissioners will tell you, there are many different ways of going about it. What they tend to prefer is a synopsis, just one sheet of A4, so you can whet their appetite with the idea, then follow it on from there.

“However, I don’t think that part is particularly difficult. But, because there are so many ideas that are put in, creatives have, up until now, perhaps been too scared to put theirs forward.”

While discussions at The Gate were ongoing, day-to-day work continued, including marketing director Steve Byrne’s regular visits to agencies throughout the UK.

“Steve talks to agencies more than anybody, because he tours the country seeing them all the time,” remarks Lewis, “so it was his idea to try and get all of them talking to each other to help develop the ideas that most of them already have.”

Having identified their objective, Byrne, Lewis and managing director Sarah Jarvis, set about fleshing out their concept.

“We came up with some initial ideas about having workshops and meetings and getting people together,” says Lewis, “but that wasn’t really feasible, plus creatives often aren’t the most forthcoming of people.

“The nature of many creative people is being introverted, and so an online forum seemed like the perfect way for them to post their ideas.”

And so The Gate Lab was born – a members only portal where programming ideas, for any medium, are uploaded, developed and (with any luck) produced.

“A piece doesn’t have to reach a particular stage before it makes it on The Gate Lab,” Byrne confirms. “It can be anything from a one line idea, written on the back of a fag packet, to a third or fourth generation screenplay they might have been working on for ages.”

Several months of development have seen a range of designs and concepts put forward for how the site should look and feel. In the end, the team went for a potting shed, where ideas are represented by plants that grow at a rate dependent upon their popularity and interest among other members.

“The whole theory behind it,” explains Byrne, “is that seeds of ideas can be put on there, which will either naturally grow or naturally die.”

The Gate will also be chipping in with advice and a panel of commissioners from various media, who will, in effect, have first refusal of any ideas.

While the list is being added to, the current panel already consists of several media experts and commissioning editors. With the exception of their peers, The Gate and the panel, members can rest assured that the site is a private forum. Better yet, once members upload something onto their profile, The Gate’s lawyers log and copyright it for protection.

The concept goes beyond that of just TV and film too. Byrne insists representatives from other media channels, such as Bebo and MySpace are ‘massively interested in content’.

“It’s all of these channel owners, not just the TV and film people, that are really interested in tapping into advertising’s creatives,” says Byrne, “because creatives are the people who know how content should work across a number of different platforms.

“The idea of Angus up in Glasgow being able to work with Jed down in London, two people who would never meet because we, as an industry, work in these little silos of agencies, to bounce ideas off one another is fantastic. As much as it’s there to put your own piece up, what we also want to see is people go online, comment and help other people. That’s where the best ideas come from.”

So what happens when the idea has developed into something ready to be put before a commissioning editor?

“We look at how we can get it made,” says Lewis. “It doesn’t have to be made by The Gate, though. It’s lovely to think it would be and that is why we’re doing it, but it doesn’t have to be. I’d be delighted to see any idea from The Gate Lab on screen somewhere, regardless of which production firm is behind it.”

Aside from simply tapping into the broader creative skills of agency staff, there is another tie in which The Gate hopes the new forum will be able to get involved in.

“Since launching the thought of it last year, the signs have been really encouraging. Most of the agencies have cottoned onto it really quickly and are already starting to say, ‘well what if we could attach an advertiser to an idea that our creatives have’.”

The growth of Advertising Funded Programming (AFP) in the US has been considerable and, although it’s yet to be as well received this side of the Atlantic, it brings a world of new opportunities.

Says Lewis: “Any TV outlet will tell you that if you come with money as well, they’ll bite your hand off so long as it’s a great idea, which it will be. They’ll be extremely interested.

“As yet, AFP hasn’t really taken off here in the UK. It was first talked about 10 years ago and a lot of agencies even have specialist departments, but they’re not really getting things off the ground. It’s mainly because the broadcasters, up until now, have been extremely picky about doing it. But they haven’t got a choice anymore because you can broadcast anywhere now.

“If they don’t want to show it, then it can be shown online and if it’s a good idea people will go and hunt it out.”

Byrne adds: “The laws on product placement in Europe have been relaxed as well now, which will start to filter through eventually. AFP has been talked about for a long time and it’s still difficult to get them produced. We’re hopeful that The Gate Lab can change this. If it’s recognised for generating great ideas, it will bring credibility to a pitched idea, commissioning editors will be receptive and programmes and films will be produced.”


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