a) What was your first job in television? A researcher in the science department at YTV in Leeds.
b) How did you get the job? I was very lucky, happening to wander into the University Careers Office minutes after YTV called asking for applicants. I applied for the job, got an interview, wrote down the wrong address so I was late, as a result I thought I’d blown it and was very relaxed, and this is probably what got me the job (I guess everyone else was too tense!)
c) When was it? 1988
d) How long was it for? 15 years.
a) What career moves did you make after this? I was lucky enough to go up the ranks at YTV, researcher, associate producer, producer / director, series producer. I was also lucky enough to move into the most interesting and exciting departments, documentaries and international factual.
b) What is the best method of making an upwards move? Work hard and be lucky.
c) Who are the best people to make contacts with in order to move up the career ladder? Make contacts with everyone. And I mean everyone.
a) What is the best job role you've been in? Researcher is good because you get to go to all the exciting places, meet the fascinating people and hear their captivating stories without the mindblowing pressure of actually having to deliver a top quality programme on time and on budget (that’s down to the producers) Being a series producer is good when you help people progress, and creating your own programme is always satisfying – but it can be quite stressful!
b) Is there a job you've done that you regret? I try to get something out of everything I do – in terms of learning new skills, different ways of filming, fresh editing techniques, new contacts and most importantly new friends. I have made mistakes – and when a programme goes out there are always things you’d like to change, but that’s life I guess.
a) How long, after entering the industry, did it take you to get your ideal job? It depends what you mean by ideal job. My most enjoyable job has been filming DVDs and web videos for IPL teams. Cricket, money, India, partying… it doesn’t get much better than that. Except when terrorists try to blow you up like they did in Mumbai when I went out to film the Champions League…
b) Do you think it's important to have a lot of experience in the industry before you get a high up position? I think it is a good idea. It means you understand the trials and tribulations of programme making when you are viewing shows and feeding back comments.
a) As a producer what are you actually in charge of? It varies depending on the production and the way the company organises it. As series producer you are usually in charge of (or responsible for) picking a top team, recruiting them, delivering the programme on budget, delivering on schedule, delivering a programme the execs are so happy with they will recommission, delivering a programme that gets good viewing figures and good reviews, doing a good speech at the end of series party and throughout the production maintaining morale amongst the troops. Those things can be mutually exclusive – which makes it a stressful role!
b) What is the best part? Helping people progress and learn more skills, making new friends, delivering a good programme.
c) What is the worst part? The fact achieving the whole list above can be unattainable, especially the morale part on a long tough shoot.
6) What qualities should a person have to be a producer? The ability to deliver the above list – so being a miracle worker helps!
7) If you could go back to the start of your career what piece of advice would you give yourself and thus others entering the industry? Don’t be overambitious and in a rush. Acquire the skills to be good at each stage – then look to move up. Be nice to everyone. And remember it’s only telly – not life and death. Unless your programme is about euthanasia.
a) How has the industry changed over time? When I was in Mumbai under hotel arrest because of the terrorists I filmed interviews in my room with cricketers, I edited them on my laptop and I uploaded them to YouTube that night. When I first started at YTV in 1988 it would have taken a whole building to film, edit and broadcast a programme (and a government license, there were only four channels) Plus you weren’t allowed to be that multiskilled. People had clearly defined roles and stuck to them. Plus there was only one computer in the office, no mobile phones, no sat navs, no e mails… how on earth we made programmes I’ll never know!
b) Do you think it's now easier or more difficult to get to your position than it has been in the past?
Both. There are more channels and more opportunities. But there are also more people wanting to get in thanks to all the media courses and the fact it is such a great job. If you try hard enough for long enough and you have the right attitude and skills you should still make it though. The key is not giving up – and making your own luck.
9) Is being multi-skilled important in getting your first job and if so why? No. But it is now.
a) What would be your dream programme to make? Please include budget, schedule, locations and what production roles would be on your team. I’ve already done it – in terms of pure enjoyment the cricket filming was the tops, in terms of achieving something worthwhile the undercover investigation into sex tourism in the far east which helped get the law changed, and in terms of proving something to myself delivering 26 half hours of TV in a year in my first series producer role was rewarding. Looking forward every producer would like a massive budget, a long schedule, glamorous foreign locations and to be in charge – so you can mould the programme the way you want to make it without too much interference. But that aint gonna happen these days!
b) How is this different from the reality? Very different. With programmes that are high stakes (and programmes that aren’t) there is scrutiny and intervention at every stage. Execs are also under a lot of pressure – and the customer is always right!
11) In recent years budgets and schedules have been cut. How has this affected making television?
It can be frustrating when your mum says “why isn’t your programme as good as Life on Earth!” People don’t really understand that if you have less money and less time it is hard to make it as impressive as a multimillion dollar project. You can still innovate and make it as good as it can possibly be though, and that can be rewarding. Sometimes you can have the most fun making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!