How would you rate your role as producer compared to your other experiences in different job areas?
You can’t really compare being a TV producer with jobs in the “real world”. When I was a student I worked as a barman, waiter, market researcher, filing clerk etc. They are all very different to working in showbiz (!) – although I would say that working as a barman helped me learn how to talk to anyone, and that is a very valuable skill in TV. As far as other jobs in TV are concerned, being a producer is one of the toughest roles, especially if you are running a big team and trying to keep them happy and motivated on a tight schedule with only a small budget. Plus you have the responsibility of actually delivering the programme, which can be very stressful!
How reliant are you purely on yourself in terms of your workload?
When I’m making web videos and corporate DVDs through my company I’m reliant on myself entirely – because I do it all myself! If I research it myself, film it myself and edit it myself I don’t need to pay anyone else, which boosts my profits. If I’m making a show for broadcast then I’m working with a team, but I still tend to work very very hard. It’s just my nature – bit of a control freak I guess!
As producer (rather than producer/director etc.) are you constrained purely to your role or can you assist and play an influential part in the directing?
Well I am a producer / director, so I do the directing as well. That is the norm in Factual TV these days. There isn’t the budget to have separate producers and directors. In fact when there was the money in the “good old days” to have separate producers and directors they would often spend a lot of their time arguing because there was so much overlap between the roles. It is better to have one person doing that job – one vision for how the programme should turn out.
What would be an average day's work in a producer’s life amidst the making of a programme?
How long is a piece of string?! Working hours vary enormously on different productions. On a series I did called ‘Crash Scene Investigators’ the team was so small I had to do a lot of multiskilling. I was getting up at 6am to digitise the rushes, going out to do a full day’s filming at 9am, then coming back and editing rough cuts in the evening. Then I’d go to bed with the “mobile phone of death” next to my pillow and if it rang I’d have to go out with the production team and film the police collision officers investigating a fatal crash. So I might film all night if there was lots to cover. A 24 hour shift like that is quite unusual, but it does happen. I’ve also done some very late nights in the edit suite when you’re racing to get a programme finished. You tend not to notice the clock though – you’re so focussed on getting the job done. If you’re a clock watcher TV might not be for you!
Is the pathway to becoming a producer generally seen as runner-researcher-production manager etc? Or are there plenty of alternative ways?
I’d take out production manager from that list. In factual programmes the usual pathway goes runner, researcher, associate producer, producer/director. Then maybe series producer if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on which way you look at it – series producer is the toughest job in TV, lots of pressure!) There are always alternative ways though – some people might miss out one of those stages if they are very talented or very lucky – or both!
Following that question, what was your route to producing/executive producing?
I was never a runner, but I did the rest. I joined YTV in 1988 as a researcher in the Science Department. I was very lucky to get a paid job first up, in a prestigious department in a famous TV company. It’s a real shame that the YTV Factual Department hardly exists now.
Fast/Cheap/High Quality - would it be fair to assume that to make a successful programme you must only pick two of these?
That’s a very good question. And you could add a fourth category – “A happy team”. ‘Fast’, ‘cheap’, ‘high quality’ and ‘a happy team’ can be mutually exclusive in my experience. As schedules get shorter and budgets get tighter it makes it harder and harder to make a show with high production values. But producers still try their hardest, and that can mean driving their team so hard they stop enjoying it, which is always a shame.
I'm sure it is safe to assume that the role of producer is a very sought after profession. Do you ever feel as though someone could take your place at anytime or is it far more relaxed?
There is nothing relaxing about working in TV in my experience. It is a very sought after profession because being a TV producer is a fantastic job, despite the fallbacks I outlined above. You get to go to amazing places, meet fascinating people and hear their remarkable stories. Despite all the stresses and strains I wouldn’t swap my last twenty odd years in TV for the world. I’ve travelled extensively and met some wonderful people, and made lifelong friends. Plus I have more anecdotes than you can shake a Philippino stick at (that’s a long story...)
Although as producer you are assumedly the top of the programme (bar the exec. prod.) and therefore have the main idea for the programme, do you often have to make compromises to your original concept in order to appease others?
There are always compromises. As producer/director you are never totally in charge of the programme. The customer is always right – and that is the broadcaster who is paying for the programme. So they have viewings where they watch what you have done and make changes. Remember they are conscious of their customers, the viewers, and ratings are very important. Also, producers often don’t have the original idea for the programme. A development team will come up with an idea, write a proposal then if they are very lucky get it commissioned. At that stage the production team, including the producer, is usually brought on board. Also remember there are different kinds of producers. There is usually a series producer who oversees all the producers, and a couple of executive producers, one from the production company which has been commissioned to make the programme and one at the broadcaster. On really big shows there may be more execs than that! The original concept always changes – usually for the better. It might not always seem like it in the heat of the moment, but the execs tend to know what they’re talking about, and the programme gets much better for their input.