This week we talk to Will Poole, Head of Production, Creative Services at Nickelodeon UK.
Where did your career in the industry begin, did you always want to work in TV?
Ever since childhood, watching Doctor Who from behind the couch and Star Wars 47 times, I’d wanted to work in film and TV. I moved to London following an MA in TV Production, naively expecting to coast directly into a Production Management role. Having sent out numerous CVs and pounded the streets, I got a break as a runner and then tape op, patching machines for duplication work. Whilst this wasn’t exactly my skill set it was great training and an excellent introduction to post-production.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome whilst trying to make it in the TV industry?
I’d say that one of the largest hurdles is making those initial contacts. I think the TV industry is very much about relationships – the more people you know, the more opportunities are likely to come your way. Like many people, I entered the industry with no contacts. Let’s just say the media infrastructure around Harlech in North Wales is not as robust as in other locations. I joined The New Producers Alliance which was a great way to meet budding film-makers and greatly enabled me in producing my first short film. Sadly that institution is no longer with us. My advice to those starting out is to get out there, meet people and make stuff – join as many online film and TV networking groups as possible.
Your career is a success story, in that you started at the bottom and worked your way up to Head of Production at Nickelodeon. What has been the secret to your success?
Timing, tenacity, long hours, a bit of luck and working alongside lovely people who believed in me and promoted me though the system. Also, I really enjoy what I do.
What do you enjoy most about your job as Head of Production at Nickelodeon?
The staff at Nickelodeon and the production team in particular are fantastic. Nothing fazes them. Put on an awards show for 2,500 people – no problem! Film in the wilds of Scotland with eight kids, thousands of bugs and 600 gallons of slime – bring it on! Also, I’d say the variety of shoots we do, from the glitz and glamour of the Kids Choice Awards in Los Angeles to filming pre-schoolers discussing art in the National Gallery for our BAFTA nominated I Love Art short films (www.nickjr.co.uk/watch). Working with the Nickelodeon teams that stretch around the world is both challenging and rewarding and has certainly opened up many avenues when planning a project.
Do you still get a chance to be involved creatively?
Creative in a sense of discussing pantones for a new logo – sadly not. However there’s a large amount of creativity required in Production Management when problem solving. Producers will never have enough time or money – no matter what the project, budget or schedule – and so discussions about how to uphold their creative vision will always be required. A good PM will help find a solution which requires the smallest compromise.
Are there any key traits or skills one must possess working for a children’s TV channel?
First and foremost, a love of kids telly. Secondly, ensuring you have a team around you who enjoy spending time with kids. Filming with kids need not be difficult. For pre-schoolers, you just have to find a way through to them, make it interesting and go at their pace.
Online, gaming and social media have changed the landscape for TV. How important are cross platform productions to the Nickelodeon brand?
Cross platform has definitely changed the media landscape, especially in kids TV. These days, when we plan a shoot, we’ll look at every possible platform where the media could run and how each area can feed into the overall campaign or program.
You recently met with some of our members at the recent PB soirees. How important is it to network in this industry?
It’s very important! Staff jobs are few and far between and you have to build up a network of potential employers. Word of mouth can take on a life of its own – I got my break at Nickelodeon thanks to a discussion between two acquaintances. It’s unlikely I’d have heard of the job without them.
You seemed to be a natural networker, do you have any tips?
Be bold, but be modest. Do your research in advance and know who you’re talking to and what they can do for you. Ask for small things, as everyone is busy and has finite time to help, even if they want to do more. For example, it might be easier to get someone to meet you for a quick coffee to discuss how to help you, than it would be to get them to read a 100 page script. Build a relationship over time rather than cramming in every ask at that initial meet.
As an employer, what keys skills do you look for in the staff you hire?
Enthusiasm, commitment and ideally, a career goal. Those starting out don’t necessarily need a degree in TV Production. However they do have to demonstrate interest in the profession, whether they’ve done work experience or made their own short films. I like to know that those we employ can advance/ develop through the system if positions become available.
Thinking about what’s on TV today, which programmes do you most enjoy watching and why?
Spongebob Squarepants, Game of Thrones, Homeland, The Shadow Line and anything written by Aaron Sorkin. These days, TV is watched mainly for escapism. I love the scripting of the shows above, the random cultural-references of Spongebob, and the depth of characterisation in many modern dramas. I’ll also watch anything with a comedy dog in it.
If you could pass on your words of wisdom to PB members about working in the industry, what would they be?
Get a foothold in the industry, even if it’s not your dream job, and then work it from the inside.
Will Poole is Head of Production, Creative Services at Nickelodeon UK.