In this edition of Word of Mouth, we talk to Producer/Director, Terry McGough, on his career as a film maker: working with leading brands, superstar musicians, and embracing the rise of branded content.
You originally started out as a photographer; what made you want to pursue a career in filmmaking?
I was a music photographer and was asked by an artist’s management company to come down onto a music video shoot to film some behind the scenes imagery for PR use. For the first time in my life I saw what a cinematographer actually did.
The artist was a very beautiful girl but the difference between the artist sitting in the dressing room and the one that the cinematographer had lit was just an incredible optical illusion; playing with light, he had transformed this girl into a superstar. I had never seen anything like it, it was like watching a magician paint with light.
I literally had a light bulb moment and fell in love with cinematography and just knew that this was the art form for me, as it just resonated with me. I began researching cinematography and taking any chance I could to get on set, paid or unpaid, just to be able to watch and learn. Then as I got into fashion photography, I took all those things and got to practice my lighting on models. I didn’t always get it right, but in time it just clicked – now my lighting skills are the cornerstone of everything that I do.
In this edition of Word of Mouth, we talk to Grierson-shortlisted Series Producer & Series Director, Colin Rothbart, about his career highlights, including a six-year self-funded documentary project, enjoying the locations on Holiday, and catching slugs for The Big Breakfast.
How did you first become a filmmaker, and what would you say was your first big break?
I definitely took the long hard route, as I didn’t know anyone in the industry. From the age of 16, I’d done unpaid work experience at The Sun and Time Out in my school holidays and then luckily got a job as a hospitality runner at TV-am, making tea for everyone from Kylie to Thatcher. This would have been great if it had lasted – but TV-am lost their franchise six months later! So I suppose my first big break after studying at uni and doing a Journalism postgraduate degree was as a Runner again on The Big Breakfast.
You were shortlisted for a Grierson Award for your self-funded documentary, Dressed As A Girl. How did that project come about?
That was something I did in my spare time over six years. I had many friends on the alternative arts scene in East London, so one of them said we should be documenting this for posterity – so I did! But with no funding and a full-time job, it took a while to come to fruition. In the end, the fact it was filmed over six years meant the storylines had much more substance. It’s played around the world in film festivals and is currently on Netflix.
In this edition of Word of Mouth, we talk to Drone Camera Operator, Will Davies, on how the drone revolution is changing the way TV is made, and what the future holds for the technology.
How did you end up becoming a drone pilot?
Technology led me into it – having always been someone who dives into new technology at the earliest opportunity, when the aircraft started hitting the professional mainstream market, I put a toe in the water. A vast amount of flying experience later, and an even vaster amount of money spent on new aircraft to keep up with the demands of TV and film production, and here I am today – four pro-aircraft and about sixty batteries that need constant charging.
What are the main advantages of using a drone over more traditional aerial filming?
This is a great question, because for a while production crews were using drones in place of helicopters because of the cost savings. The beauty of using drones now is that everyone can afford to add that extra dimension to their production – independent companies have us available on tap, and by the day if necessary.
But by far the best thing about using an experienced drone pilot is that you can (for example), have the drone film a chase on foot through a multi-story car-park, through trees, or other awkward spaces – something a helicopter would never have been able to do – and also there’s no running out of tracks, no cranes, jibs, or dollys required. Just a huge amount of flexibility and quick-turnaround shoots.
In this edition of Word of Mouth we talk to Development Producer, Charlotte Davis, about her career in TV, eating doughnuts with Chicago cops, and easing Jimmy Nesbitt into a wetsuit!
What made you want to pursue a career in production, and what was your first job in TV?
I graduated from Glasgow University with an MA in Film, TV and Theatre studies, but I never wanted to get into telly really. I wanted to be a football journalist, but after a few months doing just that at the Daily Record, I realised just how tough that was. I got very confused. I was RUBBISH!
So, instead, I lucked out. I got a place on the Carlton production training scheme, and spent a year making a magazine programme called Shift for the (now defunct) Night Network. Heady, awesome, brilliant times. Alex Menzies (now a commissioning editor at C4), Anne Mensah (Head of Drama, Sky) and Asif Kapadia (ruddy well Oscar winner), were all knocking around the Carlton CPU at the same time. None of them return my calls now though (ha ha ha!).
In this edition of Word of Mouth we talk to Producer and Series Producer, Silvia Sacco, about her work on shows including Italy Unpacked, and the BAFTA-nominated Art Of… strand.
What is a typical working day for you as a series producer?
That depends which phase of the production we’re in. At the very beginning, reading a lot and meeting possible directors, and meeting with the commissioners to understand what they expect. In the middle, scripting with the directors, talking to possible contributors, working with the researchers, fixers etc. Then on location (I am on location most of the time) while filming, following by viewings in the edit and also fully editing at least one of the films in the series at the end.
You graduated with a master’s degree in Philosophy & Ethics. What made you want to pursue a career in filmmaking?
Good TV is the best tool to democratise culture! There is no point in studying a lot if you are going to spend the rest of your life keeping it to yourself or communicating it with only a few people from a similar background.
There is no doubt that serious factual is on the rise and fast becoming a regular fixture of audience’s weekly viewing habits and, if Twitter is anything to go by, really capturing the public’s imagination.
Producers now treat documentaries like they would a cutting edge drama; it’s compelling story-telling with strong narrative arcs. Whilst a swath of rig shows such as 24 Hours in A&E, One Born Every Minute, and The Catch are pulling in big audiences, there’s still room for the more traditional approach.
At our recent Turn On, Tune In event at The Hospital Club, we were delighted to welcome James Newton, series director of the gripping and dramatic three part series, The Detectives. The critically-acclaimed BBC Two series gave a close-up view of the day-to-day operations of the Serious Sexual Offences Unit of Greater Manchester Police, the first dedicated rape investigation team in the UK.
Your cover letter is your first chance to shine – so make sure it’s done right to give you the best chance of landing that role.
I see hundreds of CVs that are very well put together – hours have been spent on layout and design…only for the cover letter to be a huge let down. And that’s a shame, as I’ve been told on numerous occasions that employers will not even look at a CV if the cover letter is rubbish!
Many potential candidates are falling at the first hurdle by using bland, generic letters for every application. It’s essential that each cover letter is tailored to the role you’re applying for.
As always, it was very interesting to read the latest salary survey conducted by Televisual recently.
I was hoping to hear the long awaited news that production budgets were rising, working hours were being reduced, people had their weekends back and were feeling richer than they were this time last year.
Wishful thinking. It’s almost becoming the norm for many freelancers that their salaries really haven’t risen for at least 6 years or more. And of course, with inflation, this means in real terms they are worse off than they were. I guess if you’re a high flying exec within the comfy confines of a broadcaster or big indie, you might be immune to all this as salaries seem to be increasing or at least moving along in the right direction.
How do you go from office dogsbody to your first paid role, when you have just two weeks of work experience to prove your worth? This week, Tom O’Brien, Head of Entertainment Development at TwoFour Broadcast, shares five points worth bearing in mind when you’re trying to make an impact:
Ok, so, you’ve jumped the first hurdle and you’ve bagged yourself two weeks of invaluable work experience. Congratulations – but here’s where the real game begins. How do you make it count? It’s ultra competitive out there, more and more people are coming in at the bottom – how do you make sure that you’re one of the people who bags a job at the end of it? Of course there are no cast-iron guarantees. On the whole, a career in the media is about being reactive, spotting opportunities, being ready to act on a whim. But still, there are a series of key disciplines, which ensure, should an opportunity ever blow in your direction, you’re ready and willing to take it.
Here’s my five key tips worth bearing in mind as you take your first baby-steps into the world of television…
This week, we chat to CSC Media’s Creative On-Air Manager, Scott Pickup.
What made you want to pursue a career within this industry?
I’ve pretty much known what I wanted to do with my life since around 14 years old, which is handy! I have always loved watching films – going to the cinema and renting videos was always a regular thing growing up. My brother and I used to watch a film on the Friday night and then get up at 6am the next day to watch it again. It sounds crazy now but that passion for all things moving image is what drives me still today.
What would you say was your first big break into the industry?
I tried for an age to get funding for short films and so many different jobs in the media industry. The only stuff I could get was expenses only work on a few feature films, great experiences but in no way a career! One day, I’d just had enough of rejection and decided to make something myself. A script idea for a short came to me pretty much fully formed and I just paid for the production myself. When the next job came up I had something real to show and it helped me get the chance to be a Junior Creative at ITV. That broke me into this world and I’ve been slowly battling my way up through the industry ever since.