This week we catch up again with freelance Executive Producer, Claire Faragher as she discusses watching TV upside down as a child to producing one of ITV’s most successful Reality TV shows. Claire explains her obsession with TV.
Where did your career in the industry begin? Did you always want to work in TV?
I started out as a print journalist and then became a chat show producer at Anglia Television after applying successfully for a job advertised in the Guardian Media Guide. I had been obsessed with television as long as I can remember – I even went through a phase of watching television upside down (don’t ask me why – I was a child and it added variety!). So when I thought about progressing from my job as a newspaper reporter, what appealed most was using my journalistic skills for television. At Anglia TV, I also made fly-on-the-wall docs and magazine shows for a number of different channels, before joining the BBC, where I downgraded and trained up eventually as a Producer/Director before moving onto being a Deputy Editor and Series Producer.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome whilst trying to make it in the TV industry?
Possibly getting my first break as a director. I feel that strong producers or journalists can be viewed as one trick ponies who are not very visual or can’t work across different genres. When I finally got my chance to direct and then PD it was nice to thwart such views and also get stuck in in the edit, where even today it’s nice to still be surprised with what you can do.
You’ve undertaken a lot of different roles within your career, working in editing, producing, directing and developing. Has variety been the key to your success, sanity or both?
Yes to all of the above!
Which role do you like working most in? When are you truly in your element?
I like managing large teams but still being hands on with the casting and creative input at the beginning, middle and end of the process. I have noticed from looking at my CV recently that I have helped launch a lot of series and have held key creative roles in them. There is nothing better than the buzz of making a new series or even a one off. It’s only bettered when the show is a big success. I also love solving problems and finding unusual ways of cutting and structuring things in the edit.
What key traits and skills do you need to be a successful Series Producer?
Excellent people skills, lots of experience, a good sense of humour and an eye for a story. You have to know how to manage people, spot their good and weak points, and be encouraging and kind. You have to have good organisational skills, be decisive, not a dictator but not a pushover, have respect for others and understand other people’s roles and the challenges they face. Always be collaborative, approachable and supportive, which also helps enable creativity. And have the ability to get stuck in, get your hands dirty and never ask somebody to do something you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself. Be able to give constructive feedback whether it’s negative or positive, but try to always offer solutions too or enable people to find the solutions themselves. Never bully people.
What do you find most fulfilling about making TV?
Informing and entertaining people, being allowed into people’s lives, having an insight into how an organisation works, having access to people and places, experiencing the challenge of making programmes, seeing something come to life and be visually exciting, always having something interesting to think and talk about, and the constant curveballs and laughter. And making great friends.
If you could pass on your words of wisdom to PB members about working in the industry what would they be?
Variety is certainly the spice of life for me and I often say, ‘Give it a go…you might just like it!’ And if you think about it, who knows who you will meet, what you will learn and where a certain job will take you? I often find the harder you work on something the luckier you get, and why not volunteer to do things, sometimes in your spare time if you can bear it, as that sometimes gives you a chance to do something like self-shooting for the first time. That’s what I did.
Jennifer Saunders has recently described the Television industry as a “bit of a boy’s club” saying that men can do less and go further. Do you agree? What has your experience been as a woman?
Yes, this in general is true and is something I used to say all the time around 8-10 years ago. But, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of hard-working men out there and I’ve worked with plenty of them. I used to find that some men would be allowed to direct quicker than women. I’ve even listened to men say they can’t research but are terribly good visually so they should just direct! I also once found out I was the most experienced person within a team of directors – all the rest were men and were getting paid substantially more than me but with the help of my line manager the situation was quickly rectified.
I find, or used to find, women can sometimes be too handy as multi-talented and thorough APs but I think the onset of self-shooting has helped women make the leap faster these days to directing and PD work. Also, women need to sell themselves better and not be afraid to ask for things, whether they are pay rises or opportunities. I sit in a lot of interviews and men are very good at self-promotion and getting their needs met and just asking for things in a forthright or charming way, and I often think, ‘Fair enough.’
There have been a few occasions when I have thought, ‘A woman wouldn’t have asked for or mentioned that.’ Some years ago I would sit in my work canteen and see it was packed with women but later when I went back to my desk I would realise that most of the Executive Producers were men. And I would think to myself, ‘How does that happen?’ The law of averages would suggest that it wasn’t possible. I do think it’s changing but I believe women bosses should remember to be as fair to women as they are with male colleagues. Of course, I must add that there are also some brilliant and encouraging female and male bosses, but some terrible ones too, although most of their problems are nothing some training, constructive feedback or intensive therapy can’t fix!! As with most things in life, it’s complicated and you can’t just pinpoint one particular reason.
What are you working on at the moment? Do you have any future career ambitions?
I’m working on the next Mary Portas series, made by Remarkable Television for Channel 4. We’re just hoping to help kick-start British manufacturing. It’s a big job but someone’s got to do it! I’m also making a documentary with Back2Back, again for Channel 4, and I’ve been working with Dragonfly developing a BBC series. I’ve also been lucky enough to have worked with Firecracker and BBC London Factual this year. They are all really exciting places to work packed with talented and lovely people so I have been very, very lucky.
With regard to future career ambition… a few more Baftas and an Oscar might look nice on the sideboard and I have an obsession with comedy and drama so that would be nice to move towards, or even entertainment. A good obs doc still gets my interest going and maybe a nice science film, and I wouldn’t rule out another structured reality but I’d probably like to push the genre further in some way or do something unnervingly dark! Reading this back I sound like I have absolutely no career focus!
Claire Faragher is a freelance Executive Producer and PB member.