Q&A with Series Producer, Donald Clarke

Q&A with Series Producer, Donald Clarke

In our latest Expert Q&A we talk to Series Producer, Donald Clarke, about his career in TV.

How did you get started in the industry?
My very first gig was on an adaption of Channel 4’s Wise Up for the SABC in South Africa. From there I continued to work on international formats as they were adapted for South African audiences. I then got an opportunity to Series Produce on the prime-time series, Survivor, which is a hugely popular format internationally.

I then founded my own production company which I ran for 10 years before being headhunted to join the production arm of BBC Studios in Africa, Rapid Blue, as an Executive Producer and Commercial Director. Since moving to the UK I have enjoyed being back in production roles.

You have worked on some major shows for South African TV such as Masterchef. Are there additional pressures with producing a much loved and successful TV show for a new audience?
Producing a much-loved show for a new audience needs to delicately draw on what has been produced before so that the elements the audience enjoy are familiar, whilst also being able to infuse it with culturally specific moments and stories that speak to their lived experiences.

What would say are the differences in working in the UK compared to South Africa?
It’s a smaller market so there is a tendency to be more generalist in your role and to work across a greater variety of genres. There are also fewer straight commissioned shows because of budgetary pressures so a lot of productions in South Africa are either co-productions, funded by sponsors or have been pre-licensed. This means you have more stakeholders involved in the decision making which can mean a lot of delicate tap dancing at times.

Is the role of Series Producer different between the two countries?
Only in terminology. In South Africa a Producer would only have a production role (scheduling and budgets) whereas the editorial would be run by the Director. The Series Producer (Series Director in South Africa) would also work closely with a Technical Director in the filming of a series. But the challenges of the job are identical!

What was the experience like of working with both UK and US as co-producers for Love At First Lie for MTV?
I’m fortunate to have had experiences working on US and UK shows and am able to adapt to subtle differences in tone and style so I enjoyed the experience of working with the two Co-Producers. We had amazing Execs and Commissioners who understood the task and made our lives as Producers as stress free as possible.

What have you recently worked on in the UK?
I’ve just finished working on Next Level Chef, the US version for Fox with Studio Ramsay.

How would you say the industry has changed since you first started out?
I think we are living through an incredibly creative and vibrant time in television, particularly here in the UK. Unscripted is booming and broadcasters are incentivised to innovate to keep pace – that’s really exciting for Producers like me. On a practical level, technology has meant that we can do more in the edit so I’ve noticed a huge shift of resources and expertise into post-production where shows are increasingly being shaped.

What do you hope to be working on in the near future?
As a Producer, I would love to get my teeth into an adventure competition series such as Survivor again. But I am also developing my own slate of shows.

Donald Clarke is a Series Producer, and a ProductionBase member. If you’d like to be featured in a future Q&A, let us know!