Last year, television production boss Jonnie Turpie sold his Birmingham firm Maverick Television to the fast-growing independent media group All3Media in a multi-million pound deal. Here he talks to Joanna Geary about Birmingham's largest production company, his decision to sell and the future of the West Midlands screen industry.
How, and why, did you get into television? I had been working with young people to express themselves through print, posters and photography when along came Channel 4 - a new television channel committed to new voices - we experimented with video and created some ground breaking TV.
When, and why, did you start Maverick? After working as a director for a range of production companies in London I wanted to do it myself from Birmingham, the city I lived in and wanted to ensure I continued to produce network media.
Why base the company in Birmingham? It's a great diverse, "can do" city.
What are your proudest achievements at Maverick? Seeing so many people come through and produce groundbreaking, popular TV and media. Whether it be the makers of How to Look Good Naked who help the ever supportive Gok Wan to transform people's lives, or the producers of Embarrassing Illnesses who give people confidence to go to the doctor after years of denial. Watching all our programmes on TV, online or at award ceremonies is always rewarding.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in television since starting Maverick? We have always applied new technologies as they have developed. First it was using hand-held cameras available in the high street to make very personal films for mainstream TV. Now we are seeing exponential growth in digital technology that is changing all our lives. This is the biggest change and opportunity as media converges and enables content to be produced for all platforms from film and TV to online and mobile.
How does the West Midland television industry compare to other UK regions? We have a bit of a way to go! As television commissioning comes ever more from a few national broadcasters, cities like Birmingham have to become homes for focused companies that can work in local and global media environments exploiting their content across numerous platforms rather than only TV. The contraction of broadcasting in Birmingham seems inevitable, but growing new digital media companies is an opportunity.
You were ranked number 29 on The Birmingham Post Power 50. How did that make you feel? That was a bit of a surprise, but an honour to be recognised alongside a generation of Birmingham's creatives which reflects the growing contribution the creative industries are making to the city and the region's economy. Something that is required if we are all going to grow the city's knowledge economy and take our rightful place in the new world. It was great for Maverick and good to be ranked so close to my friend and fellow blues supporter Lord Hunt.
You are heavily involved in the education and support of new businesses and talent in the region. Why is it important to you to take on such roles? Our young people are the future. We must enable them to fulfil their talent. Projects like First Light Movies, Stripsearch Comics, 4Talent and the range of projects Screen WM supports exhibit the talent, ambition, skills and innovation that need to be encouraged. Something I hope I assist through a range of roles I have been asked to carry out.
Some criticism has been laid at the feet of local organisations, suggesting that each year the majority of funding is allocated to the same organisations. We need to grow the relatively small pots of creative and digital media funds available to help the range of our industries. Organisations like Screen WM, AWM, and Birmingham City Council are working together to attract inward investment into film and digital media - as producers it is our responsibility to deliver growth and offer new opportunities for further investment based on success.
The city centre masterplan by Michael Parkinson is useful in this regard as it highlights the opportunity to build upon the city's creative industries to grow Birmingham as a cradle of new industry and innovation.
In June Maverick was bought out by All3Media. Why did you decide to sell the company? Following a review of our industry, and the consolidation since the Communications Bill, the board of directors took the view that if the right offer came along we would consider it. I'm very happy to say the offer from All3Media was right to grow our business in UK TV, International Media, Intellectual Property and Digital Media.
Has the acquisition changed how Maverick operates? We are growing even faster! And our programmes are travelling the world. Our great creative and management team are seeing their ambitions realised and expanded.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the region's television industry at the moment? Ensuring high quality programming retains its place in the mainstream schedules while supporting media to be taken up by new public sectors including education, health, community participation and inclusion - that's public service media in the 21st century. This is what Ofcom have recognised in their analysis of UK public service TV when digital switchover takes place in 2011 with the proposition of a public service publisher.
Meeting the challenge of the rapid changes in technology and communications and we must ensure region's industry producers, talent and voices contribute to this brave new world.
Do you feel that the region's support organisations recognise these challenges? The new Digital, Film and Media Festival planned for Autumn 2008 supported by AWM, BCC and UK Film Council is a good example of coordinated support to showcase quality content, products and talent from our diverse people and companies. As are the plans to work with government on Science City and our unique Digital Media Academy in Eastside. Birmingham City Council's establishment of FILM Birmingham and its integration with Screen WM locations are encouraging more and more Film Producers to choose the region to locate their movies. Sometimes with surprising and very welcome results. Box office hit Atonement starring Kiera Knightly and James Macvoy was shot in Shropshire's Stokeshay house. Shropshire tourism have now set up the "Atonement Film Tour" which features in the New York Post and at number seven in the International Travel Flicks of the year.
What is on the horizon for the West Midlands, and for Maverick, in 2008 that excites you? Watch the space for many new Maverick productions and as my wonderful daughter Maisie says : "Shoot for the Moon and even if you miss you will fall amongst the stars".