When they worked at Brook Lapping and Oxford Scientific Films, respectively, Phil Craig and Paul Sen talked about one day getting the chance to strike out on their own to start up a production company. Earlier this year they did just that. Not particularly because the market was calling for a new indie, and definitely not because the economy was in good shape; simply because they both felt the urge for change at the same moment.
Furnace is the result of their joint efforts. Pooling Craig’s experience working in the realms of history and politics with Sen’s extensive knowledge of science programs, the specialist factual indie will focus on these genres as well as pop culture and drama docs. Since launching in April, the two managed to talk their friend Lucy Stylianou into leaving her job in commercial affairs at Channel 4 and joining the company as their business and production management expert. Now Stylianou is the third partner.
For Craig, the new venture is somewhat of a departure from Brook Lapping’s core style of production as he moves into programs that focus on science and presenter driven projects; both of which are Sen’s strengths. However, there’s no doubt his 10 year tenure at the prodco rubbed off on him. ‘I’d like to think that some of the Brook Lapping experience lives on inside my DNA a program maker,’ he says. Sighting his old boss as a mentor, Craig describes what he calls ‘the Brian Lapping method’: the knack for telling the biggest stories better than anyone who’s ever told them before.
However Craig uses Sen’s scientific documentary series for BBC Two, Atom, as the model for the direction he sees the company going. ‘I’m looking to make shows that nail really big stories on really modest budgets,’ says Craig. Though he feels he was perhaps a bit sheltered from the realities of the television business in his previous job, he’s enjoying his new exposure to it. Some of the things he’s noticed since starting up his own business is that small broadcasters are less interested in presales than they once were and would rather deal directly with distributors than producers. Also, he feels the pressure is on to create programs with high editorial ambitions and low budgets. ‘Those kind of pressures are not unwelcome,’ says Craig. ‘I think they make you try harder.’