Pioneer creates a lot of factual and ob doc programmes with quite fast turnarounds. How important is it to keep up to date with the news?
It’s really important – obviously so with fast turnaround documentaries about very recent events. But it’s also important to keep up to date with current affairs in general, and advances in scientific research and theories. It’s important to have a holistic approach to this, as ideas can be generated from many different, often at first glance unrelated, events in the news.
You recently transmitted a doc about the Oklahoma Tornado. How did you go about gaining access and incorporating sometimes sensitive content?
As Pioneer have long made programmes about such events and the science behind them, we have strong well-established relationships with scientists and experts in the field who often work very closely with authorities in the aftermath of such disastrous events. Most professional and expert entities involved in such events are keen that people are educated about such phenomenon so gaining access is usually relatively easy (though not always!). We ensure our production crews are sensitive, and experienced in dealing with sensitive subjects, especially when communicating with people who’ve suffered first hand. We also have a responsibility to ensure we are always factually correct and work hard to ensure experts in the field can approve of what we say.
This week KEO Films’ Head of Production, Maddy Allen, discusses working across a number of platforms whilst juggling ever decreasing budgets.
How did you get into television?
It was a mixture of luck and determination. Although I had always wanted to work in television, I didn’t do any media courses (I studied German at university). I worked my way through a couple of corporate video companies and became corporate producer at a company that did both corporate and broadcast productions. Then I spent a couple of years learning the skills of production before I moved over to the broadcast side of TV.
As a Head of Production, I don’t necessarily look for people with a media education. I like to have production crew with a variety of backgrounds so whether you’re a media graduate, have spent time travelling or have been working in other industries, all experience is valuable. I’m far more interested in your innate skills and experience than what grades you’ve got on paper.
You have recently produced Skint and Bradford: City of Dreams. How have you seen the demand for factual entertainment television change in recent years?
Trends in broadcasting come and go and obviously how and when people watch TV is changing massively, but I believe that if it’s good TV people will watch it, whatever the genre.
You have been at Endemol for a number of years. How has your role of Talent Manager evolved in that time?
I started in HR at Endemol in 1999 and one of my first jobs was typing response letters to people who had sent in CVs! Technology has moved on drastically since then, and we now have an online database, so that’s been a big improvement. I would say that the role has become more challenging over time, because the talent pool seems to have shrunk and it seems harder to find available people that fit the bill.
How did you become a Talent Manager? Was it a chosen career path?
I started as HR assistant and my role evolved into a Talent Manager role. Having studied psychology at University, working with people was hugely important for me, so I feel very lucky to have this role.
We understand that have a new addition to the Samwell-Smith household – congrats! Your time management skills must come to the fore?
Yes, indeed. As a mum of three, you are constantly juggling and good time management skills are essential! Some days can be challenging, but with a good support network anything is possible. I do think mums and dads make great employees, as they are usually very focussed at work and used to getting things done quickly. Parents are constantly problem solving, and those skills are particularly useful in TV.
How did you start working in the HR department at ITV?
I originally applied for a position as an Assistant in the HR Pensions team on the ITV careers page and worked within ITV for a year before moving into the new in-house Recruitment team as a Co-ordinator, to support a new team of six.
Is talent recruitment a career you always wanted to pursue?
Not initially, as I didn’t really know what it entailed. However, since joining the in-house Recruitment team at ITV I love talking to and meeting people, which is the key part of the job, and as a result I would like to develop my career further within recruitment.
How many job applications do you get through in an average week?
Each Recruitment Manager looks after around 20-25 roles, and on average we receive anything between 30-400 applications per role.
This week, Whizz Kid’s MD, Lisa Chapman, discusses the need for multi-tasking with all aspects of production – from working with comedians in silly outfits to dealing with HR.
How has your previous roles as a producer and executive producer helped in your role as MD at Whizz Kid?
Whizz Kid is an independent production company so as MD I need to be across everything from forecasts and finance to development and HR. My background is as a producer which also involves being across all aspects of a production and communicating with lots of different people so that ability to multi-task and people manage has really helped.
Is a career in telly something you always wanted to do?
Not at all! I left uni with a degree in Philosophy with vague plans of being a photographer. TV is something I fell into, had an aptitude for and loved (nearly) all of it.
What is your daily schedule like as MD?
It is so varied, there is no routine as such. I might be in development brainstorms, pitches or in the studio. It does involve regular cups of tea and coffee though.
This week, Self-shooting PD, Gabe Crozier, discusses his career in television and commercials, including filming ladies legs all day to ITV’s Storage Hoarders.
How are you able to adapt yourself between working as a DV Director and Self shooting PD?
I enjoy DV directing for all the reasons any self-shooting director would. Having creative freedom to create a narrative and visual design, as part of my contribution to the episodes I shoot and direct within is challenging and exciting. As a self-shooting PD, I get more involved in the strategy of narrative and story development, be it in a reactive sense on a shoot day or in pre-production within scripting. I’m supporting and guiding a small team of shooters and will grab a camera too as and when required. So adapting between DV Directing and Self-shooting PD is a mental step between translating a script to screen and creating and nurturing a script to screen.
What made you progress into becoming a shooting PD, rather than a PD?
The idea of a shooting PD appealed over a PD role in that I personally love being on-set and active. Having the opportunity to be part of the story-telling process as it happens and pick up a camera and help shape the vision is a must to me. Depending on the show treatment, I may be shooting a lot in a day or just occasionally – but either way I am at the coalface and immersed in the team effort.
This week we talk to Location Manager and Fixer, Steve Ballantyne, on the challenge of working in difficult environments, finding that perfect location, and his move to Asia.
You live in Hong Kong – how have you had to adapt your career to work around this?
My move to Hong Kong was actually adapting my personal life to work around my career – from day one I have chosen to work on productions filming in remote locations across Asia. I was originally working from London which did give me direct access to clients but restricted me on my ability to develop knowledge and to gain further valuable experience in the countries I wanted to support productions in, moving to Asia was always on the cards and inevitable to support my career plans in both managing the logistics for filming projects and my own personal interest in exploration.
What prompted the move to Hong Kong?
Initially, I had planned to move to Papua New Guinea, a country I still have a strong and very close affiliation to. However, PNG was just one country of many I wanted to work in, so I set my sights on either Hong Kong or Singapore as both have booming production industries. I finally chose Hong Kong for its close association to China and the countries it borders – I also felt Hong Kong was quirky enough to match my personality. I love the buzz of city life which is where I keep my office but I live out on Lamma Island and have chosen a home in the mountains. I love the contrast of life and the gateway living in Hong Kong gives me to provide production companies comprehensive logistical support in a range of countries across Pacific, Central and East Asia.
This week, BAFTA-nominated Series Producer, Jo Bishop, discusses her career in television.
What made you want to specialise in making Factual Entertainment television and Observational Documentaries?
I started out in radio, making documentaries and social action campaigns for younger audiences on Radio 1. It wasn’t just the subject matter that needed to capture their attention but the approach. When I moved to TV seven years later, my style of programme making seemed to fit across both camps – entertainment and factual.
Amongst many other accolades, you have received two BAFTA nominations. What are the key skills involved when trying to convey a compelling story?
I don’t think I will ever stop learning from others and trying to improve on my storytelling skills, but I think compelling factual storytelling works in the same way as fiction. You need a unique angle or focus, a story that works on a number of levels, emotional drama and an element of surprise with twists and turns as the story unfolds. In observational docs you should be able to able to peel back your characters to enable the audience to make some emotional connection or at the very least have some understanding so they want to find out more.
This week, Production Manager, Sonia Caller, discusses the challenges of dealing with contributors and handling multi-million pound budgets.
You have done a lot of location shoots across the world – where has been your favourite place and what are the main factors and challenges that need to be considered when filming abroad?
Filming overseas has its own challenges. What is really essential is making sure the teams are well briefed and have everything they need and if possible to travel as lightly as possible. Working with teams in a different time zone generally means my end of day is their beginning of day and as my phone is rarely off I have found myself taking calls at all hours to smooth the way. My favourite place so far has been Barcelona, I had negotiated an exceptionally great rate at a 5 star hotel for the team and when I turned up at location I think they thought I was someone quite important and put me in the penthouse suite – if only I could travel like that all the time on location! I have travelled the world extensively for pleasure living in very basic conditions, so I appreciate that some destinations can be extremely tough on teams working in volatile locations or challenging because of the elements of the natural world so it’s important to ensure they have the best opportunity to rest and rejuvenate on the road from time to time if they are away for extended periods because days are long and hard going.
How do you have to adapt your management skills between working with large broadcasting companies and small independent production houses?
Essentially, it’s always about communication – the bigger the team is, the more important it is to keep the flow and ensure everyone is informed of changes as timely as possible. Working with small independent production companies generally means I may bring expertise in some areas they have not got – so it’s not unusual if I am asked to establish new foundations, introducing new ways of working in the future and establish new important contacts for the business going forward.
TV & Me with Series Producer Michael Waterhouse, whose credits include The British, Secret Homes and Art of the Sea. Michael has just finished The Bible, a hugely ambitious ten-part dramatisation for The History Channel.
What was it made you want to pursue a career in television?
The career I’ve had is a long way from Rawhide, but if there was a seed, I think it was watching westerns as a kid, and being enthralled by the landscapes and the gunfights. Landscapes have featured quite heavily in my subsequent documentary career. Gunfights not so much.
How did your television career start, what was your first big break?
I had an odd entry into television. After university, I joined the Community Service Volunteers, which seconded me as a general assistant (a ‘Runner’ now) to HELP!, a local social action programme produced by Thames Television. That was the foot in the door. From there, I had two distinct breaks. In those days, it was extremely difficult to get a researcher’s job in ITV without an ACTT ticket and the Catch-22 was that you needed to work on a production to join the union. Occasionally, there were vacancies for non-union applicants. I went for any that came up, and after about six months, I was lucky enough to be given a researcher’s job on This Is Your Life. My interest was in documentary-making, but TIYL, to some people’s surprise, gave you a very good grounding in factual research. A year later, I applied to be a reporter on an ITV afternoon arts magazine called Afternoon Plus. I didn’t get the job, but the head of that department invited me to apply for the post of Producer of Religion & Arts – and that was the ‘big break’.