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“I should apply to this thing called Creative Access” – Harlan Davies tells his story so far…

Former Creative Access intern at independent production company Electric Ray, – Harlan Davies – shares his story with us and gives some top tips on how to navigate the tricky world of television….

After finishing my final exams at university, I suddenly had to turn vague aspirations of a job into a reality. My history degree led me down certain predictable avenues, like political think-tanks and teaching, but I wanted to at least attempt to do something a little bit more left field first. Luckily, a friend of mine said I should apply to this thing called “Creative Access”. I googled them and their story seemed to check out so I applied for a role titled “Development Intern”.

With the help of the Creative Access team, I was hired by Electric Ray Television. I would be there for over a year and half and receive a marvellous education in the ways of TV.

A definite highlight for me at Electric Ray was tagging along with council officers on a dog poo stakeout on a rainy estate in Dumfries. Another was playing the role of a contestant for a game show pilot. I had to sing Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’ in front of Paddy McGuinness for some reason.

Post-Electric Ray, I never thought I would derive so much satisfaction from hearing Michael Portillo say “relatively” in his voice-over for the Great American Railroad Journeys but one of my pedantic fact checks forced a reappraisal of 19th century California’s race relations. Similarly, I never thought that I would have to be the first person in the world (maybe) to calculate the weight of the Taj Mahal but I did it with the full force of my GCSE Maths. My workings certainly made sense to me and I have no idea if my calculation ever made it into this Science Channel programme.

On the other hand, when I read the Directors UK report that stated only 1.5% of TV directors are from a BAME background, I was not surprised. In my experience, TV remains a world of networks and quid quo pro to a certain extent.

And I think the higher you rise in the telly game, the more it becomes about schmoozing, relationships and maintaining comfort levels. It can be difficult to satisfy these unofficial criteria, if who you are fundamentally, dictates that you just can’t. I’ve been in one situation where I discovered at least three people in the same company were all from the same town in Surrey. The TV world is not fair and it is easy feel shut out from it sometimes, especially if you qualify for an internship at Creative Access. I have considered dropping out on more than one occasion because of this speculative line you have to tread and the unsteadiness of being freelance.

I was actually very close to applying for advertising jobs at the end of last year, but I was pulled back from the brink by a company called Arrow Media who offered me a fantastic opportunity to develop my career.

One of their Creative Directors, Tom Brisley, is now my mentor and I feel like I’ve found home here in their development team. I love the art form of developing TV programmes, whether that’s quizzing experts on the phone or perfecting a pitch document, and ultimately helping the company win business. The development process is unpredictable, incoherent and endlessly enjoyable. I intend to cultivate a career in it for the foreseeable future.

My main piece of advice to a newcomer would be that given the freelance nature of the industry, it is very useful to find a company willing to make you part of the wallpaper and look after you. It’s about maintaining relationships and connections to give your career stability and thus the headspace to focus on your work.

You learn that anyone who has done well in TV has had a mentor at some point – someone in a senior position who likes you and wants to champion your success.

Finally, talent has a way of rising despite obstacles, real or perceived. Being good at your job and over-delivering will be eventually recognised by someone. Just be patient!

P.S. The weight of the Taj Mahal is roughly 32000 tonnes.