How To Survive The TV Maelstrom

How To Survive The TV Maelstrom

Have you ever had experience of working in a hostile environment? With the picture this book paints of the industry, apparently anyone who works in TV can add this to their CV! This is my take on Elsa Sharp’s new book, “How to Get a Job in Television: Build Your Career from Runner to Series Producer.

“It’s a very selfish industry and it’s very ruthless. It doesn’t suffer fools gladly or tolerate weakness. If someone’s not able to do their job properly it’s so incestuous that it gets around the industry really quickly. It’s a very superficial industry. If you have a hit, everyone wants to know you, if not…..” (C4 Executive).

Does this sound right to you? My fellow Talent Manager and experienced senior producer, Elsa Sharp, has just published How To Get A Job In Television: Build Your Career From Runner To Series Producer. It’s a detailed 278-page guide to opportunities and pitfalls that gives a realistic picture of the industry today, warts and all.

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Are You Down In The End-of-Sale Basement?

Are You Down In The End-of-Sale Basement?

Broadcasters like any other business, might be tempted to tighten the belt (even if it’s not necessary), during an economic downturn, but how much will this assist the long-term agenda? This week I reflect on Delissa Needham’s theory and offer a healthy alternative.

Has your attention been caught by the In My View column in last week’s Broadcast magazine? Delissa Needham, who is an executive producer at the Bio Channel and an experienced programme-maker in her own right, holds that the BBC overspends on its independent commissions when it could be buying-in the same commissions for a fifth of the cost.

Ms Needham writes that the BBC is doing the equivalent of shopping for its groceries at Harrods rather than a supermarket brand by commissioning from the bigger production companies who, “can’t and won’t do low-budget programming. It’s a skill that needs the right producing talent and the right commissioners experienced in low budget”.

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Don’t Be a Stranger

Don’t Be a Stranger

Networking has long been the buzz word of the media industry and the benefits of effective schmoozing and professional reputation can be career defining. This week Moray reminds us of the importance of networking and illustrates how “belonging” can aid you in carving out a successful career for yourself.

Networking’ is a grindingly hackneyed phrase. It is as if no new initiative can be discussed without the words ‘social networking’ somewhere in the first sentence. Or does it make you think of grimly ‘working a room’ with a glass of warm white wine in hand, a forced smile and a babble of small talk? And yet the truth is that every reader of this page is dependent on their own networks for their ongoing income. If you can work out where you want to be next, you will probably need your networks to get you there. This is the key maxim: a network is something that you make for yourself, not something you join.

Of course, there are all the online social networking sites, the Linked-Ins and Facebooks and others, which really can be useful to join and are free of charge. And then there are the industry-specific networks of which the ProductionBase is arguably the biggest, and which are an important part of your professional kit. These are ready-made networks in which it is a good idea to take part, but even then the onus is on you to take further the connections they offer.

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Mind The Gap

Mind The Gap

A freelancer’s work flow can be unpredictable and irregular at the best of times, but cries of hard times seem to be even more prevalent as freelancers attempt to sit-out the apparent production-crunch. If this rings true to you, maybe part-time work or a 2nd job is something you’ve already considered? This week I talk to some PB members who are already living out this reality and offers some insight into how they’re muddling through.

It’s an open secret that relatively few television freelancers can rely on their TV production work alone to pay all of their bills, all the time. And yet, there’s an embarrassment about what else people do in the gaps between contracts, almost as if they are showing weakness in their commitment to television by doing other things… I asked a range of ProductionBase members of all grades to tell me, in strictest confidence of course, what they actually do when they are not working in production… Of all the jobs mentioned by people, the biggest earner was also the most striking.

Instead, indies and broadcasters could be grateful to their workforce for getting out there to work in other roles, meeting people in different contexts, and celebrate their eclecticism. Maybe those companies should also worry that so many of their workforce need to work elsewhere to make ends meet.

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Are You Moving Up?

Are You Moving Up?

London has always been the heart of the UK’s TV and media land. As a freelancer, if you weren’t willing to relocate to the big smoke maintaining a regular work flow further a field was luxury. With more production houses eloping north and the big promise of Salford’s Media City, the wheels are already in motion, but how much will things really change?

We have become jaded and cynical about token corporate moves to provide cultural balance, but sometimes they make such a fundamental difference that we forget what the earlier alternative was.

Until 1982, almost all television production was made in-house by the broadcasters of just three channels. The government of the time wanted to break what it saw as a left-wing union-dominated cultural monopoly and imposed a minimum quota of 25% of productions to come from external commissions, and founded a free market-based fourth channel which would only buy-in productions from the outside suppliers which didn’t even exist yet. This created the independent production sector and as a by-product the freelance production sector to service it. That was a token gesture which changed our television system completely.

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Are You Not Entertained?

Are You Not Entertained?

It’s not all doom and gloom in TV land. This week I head towards the light to unveil a land where everything is shiny, chirpy and consistently upbeat. Entertainment may not be where your heart is, but it’s definitely where the money is!

I have written a couple of articles here casting doubt on the financial and long-term future of UK broadcasters and their current structures. However, of course there is light at the end of the tunnel even for the big corporations, and it may be in the form of a glitter ball hanging over a shiny floor. Glossy Entertainment television is where much of the big money is headed, and it may be the saviour of big audiences and communal viewing.

Established factual indies are building-up their own Entertainment departments and broadcasters want to replicate the kind of audiences that Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor and Dancing On ice have commanded over the last few years. If you doubt that these formats can sell abroad, just ask multi-millionaires Simons Fuller and Simon Cowell, who have watched Pop Idol (X Factor by another name) become the dominant monster of the US television schedule.

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Riding Out The Storm

Riding Out The Storm

Apparently TV wonderland has hit a blip. We keep hearing it, but are things really as bad as people keep saying? Freelancers and production companies are among those trying to work alongside the repercussions, but what if that’s no longer viable. They say those that can teach, but once you set your sights on new ventures is there really any turning back?

I can’t remember a time when freelancers weren’t being told by others that, “everyone says it’s quiet out there, but it’s supposed to pick up soon”. I’m hearing this a lot just now, and it seems so familiar that I thought I should find out whether the recession really is having an impact on freelance TV production work. So I contacted some of the other production talent heads of the larger indies to ask for their off-the-record opinions of what’s going on.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the economic climate is indeed stormy for commissions and the people who work on them. Productions are still going ahead, but they are fewer, and the competition for work is probably now tougher than I can remember since the last tangible recession in 1990-92. There are certainly many more channels and productions to work on than there were 18 years ago, but the size of the available workforce is also very much larger. People talked of giving up looking for work in the summer/autumn of 1991, and waiting for it all to get better. I hope that you won’t have to do the same.

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No Train Without Gain

No Train Without Gain

As the government works hard to promote its Train to Gain initiative, what relevance (if any), does this hold to the TV and Film world? If training is so important why isn’t it regarded so amongst employers? This week I expose the misconceptions and ask: is it worth it?

There are two perceptions among programme-makers which seem to be at odds with reality. The first is that there isn’t much training available, and when it is available, the freelancer bears the cost of it. The second is that if you could get the right training it would give you that essential advantage when applying for the next job.

If you have ever worked within the BBC, you will know that it can be training course heaven (or purgatory, depending on your frame of mind). The corporation provides a vast range of the best television training available to anyone in the world, and often seems to place its employees on arrays of courses as a way of filling time in between production jobs. If you want a lot of training, then try to work at the BBC.

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What’s Up Doc?

What's Up Doc?

If British broadcasters are under more pressure than ever to succumb to commercial pressures, what place does documentary filmmaking hold in the commissioner’s line-up? This week, I look at whether support for documentary filmmaking is about to become a lavish extravagance of the past.

It would be interesting to know how many ProductionBase members initially pursued a career in television because you wanted to make significant documentaries which could be watched by millions. I expect that a sizable number did, regardless of the genre of production each of you have specialised in since starting out. In practice, freelancers can find themselves pigeon-holed by genre; you may have taken that job on a popular satellite shopping channel, but you took it because you were trapped by financial responsibility, not because it fulfilled your creative desires. If this is the drift which takes people away from documentary, then where is the documentary itself drifting? In UK broadcast television, the documentary world has been changing fast, and here is what I see happening.

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