Channel 4’s Commissioning Executive recently opened our Creative Industries Showcase event at Channel 4. In this blog piece, she talks about how she launched her career in TV.
Growing up in the 80s ‘having a passion for the media’ meant having an appointment to view The Krypton Factor, Desmond’s or Saturday Superstore, listening to Mark Goodier on BBC Radio 1 and obsessing over any Smash Hits issues my mum would let me and my sister buy as a special treat. I know, relatively primitive cultural pursuits next to today’s avalanche of platforms and content. But despite any interest in popular media, without any connections or know-how of who to contact or ask, I found myself accepting to pass on the possibility of working in TV.
It was only in mid 20s when I was completing my PhD and contemplating a life as a research scientist that I decided I’d try one last attempt at getting into TV production. So I wrote a few letters. And I received no replies. That was until my dad spotted an advert in the local newspaper saying that BBC Wales wanted to broaden its intake of new production staff. A few chats with outreach HR staff and an application process later, I had landed myself a 1 year production traineeship at BBC Wales.
In retrospect it sounds straight-forward, but at the time I remember feeling lost as speculative attempts didn’t work. To me, ‘the media’ was a big white ivory house without a door and I felt like I was running around it knowing I wanted to get in but not knowing how to find the door. Thankfully, the industry is a little more transparent now.
Perhaps being a mature entrant helped me get into the BBC but that still wasn’t a guarantee of a life-long career. None of my contracts were ever that long, which is normal for the industry. I moved around the UK which culminated in over eight years working on a range of BBC TV programmes, including radio and online. It is an incredibly competitive industry and still has a long way to go in terms of a range of views, voices and visions, but the trick is to understand how you can make your outlook matter.
My time at the BBC enabled me to understand which aspect of the business of TV I enjoyed best. Eventually, I gravitated towards working on the part of TV responsible for developing ideas for new factual programming.
Even though I had a good run at the BBC, I still found it tough to maintain momentum and often wondered how my interest in the global world could be explored. Even with experience, doors can still shut in your face and cynicism can set in. So I took 3 years out to work in international development. Returning to TV production only 5 years ago, I have freelanced as a producer at a range of large independent companies on programmes and ideas across all the major broadcasters before joining Channel 4 on a 1 year placement within their documentaries commissioning team. Commissioning is often viewed as the apex of the TV production tree as it is these people who have the influence to decide what programme ideas a broadcaster will buy and make, so it has been an extraordinary insight.
Thinking about it now, perhaps my route in was a lot to do about timing and luck. I was a few years older than the average new TV entrant and had knowledge outside of the media – in this case a science degree – but I also think there is no one way.
Be sure of what you enjoy or like and don’t compromise on that. Eventually the tide will turn. With the premium on youth and new ways of media consumption, be bold in conveying what you enjoy in the media.
Finally, don’t think you can do everything. You can’t and won’t – and – above all, be confident. The biggest barrier to accessing this industry is having the self-belief that you can add to it and then learning to communicate that amiably. Afterall, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Everyone else in telly is…