Media Parents

5 Minutes with Aileen McCracken, Series Producer

April 13, 2011 @ 5:29 pm Posted in News Comments

Having attended Alastair Hill’s recent workshop on Transferrable Skills  for Media Parents I was inspired by Al’s worksheet to complete my own little survey on transferrable skills and wondered how, if any, would be applicable in the world outside telly?  I tried to apply them both to parenting and work but please feel free to add more in the comment box below.

SP Aileen McCracken (left) and Production Co-ordinator Maggie Walsh at a Media Parents networking event.

Multi-tasking: Well every parent knows this one too well and can quite easily schedule and crew a shoot whilst doing the shopping on-line and getting an outfit for the school play.  But my favourite by far was taping up a leaking boob job (not mine) whilst directing a fashion shoot, and talking another contributor down from the ceiling who was complaining that the fashion stylist had made her look like a prostitute! Oh and finding lunch for the crew because the production had run out of money for an AP!

Negotiating: In the telly world every film is a different set of negotiations and hurdles to overcome, and it’s always about making the best deal and keeping everyone happy.  The same skill applies to childcare, bringing up children involves a massive amount of negotiating skills - try to talk a two year old out of  taking the leg off a shop dummy because he  likes the feel of the stockings, or a sixteen year old from having a tattoo. They make dealing with crews, access and contributors look like a walk in the park. By the way, I do like to think that there is a similarity between crews and children in so far as if they are well fed they are much happier.

Budgeting skills; For most of our working life in telly we spend a large proportion of time on money skills, making the budget stretch further and getting the most on screen and into our productions. At home we are used to being able to juggle the household income to see what is absolutely needed or what can be saved on. We can and do make the most of any money and this is a skill that is often overlooked.

Marketing; Selling our ideas to broadcasters, selling ourselves at interviews, writing the pitches and billings. With kids the marketing goes on under another guise, it’s getting them into right school and making sure that they are making the connections and making the most of their talents.

Interview techniques; there are not many people who can say that they have interviewed the amount of people that those working in television do, and what is more important is the range of people that you need to talk to – police chief one minute and a male stripper the next. It’s all about hearing what they are saying, and asking how they feel – much the same as child rearing then.

Series Producer Aileen McCracken is in the Media Parents TALENT section.

Research skills; What other job asks you to become an instant expert in a subject and challenges you to know the finer details of a deep sea oil rig (someone has to interview the boffin from Imperial College) and also to understand the treatment of premature babies, or the mechanics of credit card fraud. Kids don’t come with a manual and its always a case of finding the advice that works for you – where do you learn about night terrors, self harm or teenage angst?

People skills; With children you are automatically propelled into a world of new parents who are outside your normal circle of friends, but those of us who have survived in the telly world know that we have always used the skills to make contributors and presenters and crew feel needed valued and respected. One of our most important and most useful skills is being able to talk to anyone. Communication is a hugely valuable skill.

Creativity; It goes with the job that you are a creative soul and understand the difference between a nicely framed shot and someone with a tree growing out of their head.  You understand the difference a  good voice-over will make, and that the music should add not detract.

Time management; A skill at which working parents are past masters, and as such they have the ability to get more out of a day than most. They prioritise and know that the list has to be got through. Working hard does not mean just being there, it means making the most of the time and then going home.

People Management; Being part of a crew teaches us to work with as well as manage so the team from the runner to the executive all know and feel they have a part to play in the success of project and are playing to their strengths. There is only a short time (in some cases a couple of months) to make the team gel and deliver, and everyone knows when those above them are making a noise but not making with the leadership.

Flexibility; Being flexible is a skill that is learnt (often the hard way) because very little in this world goes quite according to plan (in my case arriving six hours late for a shoot because they closed the M4) but it’s how you deal with it that really matters. Yes a minute of panic then find a solution (there always is one). You know that you can sort things out and turn negatives into positives and that is massive skill to have. It may not be quite how you planned but it may be better.

Editing; making sure that only the best is retained and even that which was mediocre is raised to a great standard, which is the name of the game. Telling stories with strong narratives – is that not what we all strive to do?

These are just the first twelve that came into my head but I do believe that being a parent, as well as experience, brings a lot to the table and could transfer to other industries. What we learn is very valuable and not everyone get the chance to be as multi-talented as we are.

www.mediaparents.co.uk for great talent, networking, jobs and information.

Aileen McCracken in her own words:

I am an experienced and enthusiastic Series Producer, who has also worked as an Executive Producer, Producer/Director and Edit Producer.

I have made many prime time films for all the major broadcasters and pride myself on getting the best possible stories, creating compelling films.

Used to working on tight budgets and fast turn arounds as well as tackling any subject. I have made observational documentaries, factual entertainment, factual format programmes and current affairs.

Aileen can be found in the TALENT section of www.mediaparents.co.uk

Leaving TV: From producer to professional

The following article by Barry Shaverin is reprinted with kind permission from Broadcast Magazine.

Worries about work? Sick of insecurity? There is a light on the horizon. If you’re tired of the trials of television, transfer your skills to professional services, says Barry Shaverin.

This recession is giving other industries a taste of life in TV. Job insecurity? No new opportunities? Can’t get a mortgage? Welcome to our world.

But when you’ve finished gloating, realise that the world outside TV will recover. Should you be making plans to move and get a taste of the green shoots for yourself? I did. Here’s how.

Years ago, when I still worked in TV, I was at an ideas meeting. Somebody noted that every person in the room – half a dozen of us – was under thirty. The exec was the only one over 40, and even then only just. Somebody wondered aloud why there were so few “old people” in TV, and what happens to those who leave. We collectively shrugged and got back to thinking up ideas.

You see, nobody actually cared what happened to them – we had the best jobs in the world, being paid to discuss TV and decide what ordinary people should be watching when they weren’t in some windowless office, staring at a screen and adding up numbers.

Why should we worry about life after TV? Besides, everyone knows that if you’re any good, you come up with a global format and retire, or you set up a creative investment fund. At worst, you set up an indie and a VC buys you out. Simples.

Until then, I was earning more per week than any friends who were struggling as trainee solicitors and accountants. Fools! And I was doing it by travelling, meeting celebrities and wearing jeans. There was no better job for a twenty-something.

But then suddenly I wasn’t in my twenties. As I got more senior, I became more desk-bound and spent a lot more time staring at a computer screen. I wasn’t adding up numbers, but it wasn’t what I had signed up for.

Oh, and the trainee solicitor and accountant friends? They were no longer trainees, and were now on six figures, plus pension, medical, bonus – they weren’t fools any more.

Don’t get me wrong, I still loved television, and I was earning more per week than I had been. But not that much more – and by then I had worked out that the weekly salary didn’t really mean much to anyone outside TV (the bank manager) – it was the annual salary that counted. Gaps between short contracts didn’t really help with this particular figure. The format didn’t happen. The indie didn’t materialise.

Suddenly, I very much cared what happened to the “old” people who left TV, and I was prepared to hang up my jeans and buy a suit. Was I selling out? Maybe. But bills happen.

The suit was an easy formula – (Visa + Selfridges) x APR. But then what? When you haven’t done anything but work in television, who’ll be impressed by your PD-150 skills? Probably nobody. But a TV freelancer is blessed with other skills – I just needed to realise what they were, and who would want them.

1 YOUR SKILLS

As a TV freelancer, you almost certainly have skills you take for granted – to you, they’re nothing special, and ancillary to the main job of making TV programmes. But to others, they’re worth good cash – you can use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, you’re great in a meeting, can pitch ideas, you are creative and write beautifully.

And as a freelancer, you probably have more experience of job interviews than anyone you’ll come up against. These are your new core skills. But who’ll pay for them?

2 YOUR MARKET

Advertising, PR or corporate video and commercials production – worth considering, but likely a case of out of the frying pan… So two new words for you – professional services. The largest law, accountancy, consultancy, investment and audit firms, and large public sector bodies all employ people like you under the generic terms of “marketing” and “communications”. People who interview clients, make bids, write copy for speeches, websites, intranets, brochures, advertisements and newsletters. And these people are paid well.

3 THE REWARDS

Of course, there’s the salary. Entry level (the equivalent of researcher): up to £25,000 plus bonus. Someone with the experience of an AP? Maybe £40,000. And these are annual salaries – no weekly contracts for them. Imagine that – making financial plans and commitments.

Stick around long enough to head a team, maybe £70,000. The equivalent of executive producer? £200,000 plus bonus is not impossible. And crucially, these workers are not culled as they get grey. If you choose, you’ll be valued in your forties, fifties and sixties.

Let’s keep going – sociable hours, pension, medical (for you and your family), paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, company car, gym membership, blah blah blah.

And then less obvious stuff – the really large firms sponsor employees to take degrees, go on all manner of training courses, work in overseas offices… at least one of ‘The Big Four’ even sponsors employees in sports. And then the ‘everyday’ benefits. Posh chairs to support your back (Herman Miller, not Viking Direct), computers that actually work all the time (with full support of course – push a button and a technician miraculously appears), gourmet, subsidised canteens, and gleaming kitchens and toilets (I know this is a really small point, but I couldn’t help but notice that even the best indies often had dodgy facilities – you’ll appreciate the difference.)

Want more? How about an in-house GP? Throw in a free BlackBerry (for some reason iPhones haven’t caught on in the PS world – deduct one point), a host of corporate discounts (Sky TV, Spa breaks, car rental), free fl u jabs in the office (at time of writing – ordinary, not swine). Etc etc: you get the idea.

I don’t remember this being available, even at the most successful indies. (Why is this? Because TV is a lifestyle business? Because it works to 8%-20% margins, when the rest of the world aims for 40%-50%? Answers on a postcard…)

4 THE DOWNSIDE

Of course there’s a downside. People don’t just give the good stuff away. TV is a wonderful, progressive and liberal industry, where creativity reigns and “the end result” matters far more than how you behave day to day. That’s what makes it special. And very, very different. You’ll have to get used to some changes…

First off, the obvious ones. The Christmas parties are more restrained than the more debauched TV ones you will have been to. No Hotmail, YouTube, Ebay or Facebook at your desk. And you have to wear a suit – a nice one, with an ironed shirt, tie and cuff links. Men must be cleanshaved. Polished shoes, clean fingernails – the whole thing. Some firms “dress down” on a Friday – don’t get excited, it just means you can lose the tie, and your jacket doesn’t have to match your trousers. This is all taken very seriously. Individuality is frowned upon. It’s all about fitting in and looking “professional”.

Vitally – and this is really difficult for the TV refugee – you have to watch what you say. It goes without saying that there are certain naughty topics – ones that are often socially acceptable in the entertainment industry which are to be strictly avoided. But there’s a more subtle difference: in TV, you’re encouraged to think aloud. It doesn’t matter if some of your ideas are nonsense, as long as there’s a spark of genius in there somewhere, a great idea every now and again – that’s what the creative process is all about. But in professional services, “credibility” is everything – nonsense is not allowed. They won’t have a good laugh at the less inspired ideas and then applaud you for the good ones. Keep it zipped unless you’re certain that what you are about to say is valuable.

Once you navigate your way through the cultural minefi eld, let’s consider the work. TV is often a series of broad brush strokes – you must first understand the complex ideas, but then you distil them to simpler concepts – less is more and all that. You learn to package everything up quickly – it’s a real skill. Unlearn it immediately. In TV, you accept that your typical audience member is a teenager who reads the red tops; in professional services, they are a middle-aged PhD who reads the Economist.

And they want detail – painstaking, minute detail. Nothing can be missed, nothing can be simplified. Let me illustrate. When I was fi rst training to do audit CRM, I was getting to grips with the difference between a financial director and a financial manager.

It was explained to me over 20 minutes. “I get it”, I said, “so the manager holds the calculator, and the director holds the cigar.” Big frown. Not even a hint of a smile.

You know what? That explanation holds water. But they don’t want to hear about short cuts. I didn’t make that mistake again. This point is serious – when you do eventually sit down and exercise your core skills, you may find that interviewing, pitching and writing in such detail just isn’t for you.

5 TEMPTED?

I must manage your expectations at this point – there’s no gold rush. Jobs are few and far between right now, especially for “non-essential” staff in marketing and comms.

But even if the economy was on a high, you would still be best off taking your time – successful escapes are carefully planned, while people who go over the wall on a whim are usually caught and brought back to jail. So start planning and do it properly – allow a year or more.

If, like so many people in TV, you already have a PPE/maths/classics first from Oxbridge, then skip this paragraph. For the rest of us, you would do well to get an “impressive” qualification. You will not need an MBA or law degree to actually do these jobs, but it’ll help get you the interview, and carry that all-important “credibility” once you turn up for work.

Register at night school now. I’m not kidding – you can complete a post-grad law degree, two evenings a week, in two years. For the more practical among you, take a look at the Chartered Institute of Marketing – their courses are recognised across the professional services sector.

Qualification in hand, trawl the websites of the best firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Eversheds, Linklaters, Allen & Overy, McKinsey, Accenture and others. They all have careers sections on their sites.

Or go through a recruitment agency – the big ones have specialist marketing departments. The PSD Group has a track record in sourcing talent from unaffiliated industries.

Principal consultant Daniel Shaw advises: “PS firms operate at the highest levels. Persuade them you’re up there, and that you can adapt your key skills and experience to add value and fit in at their firm. It can be done”.

6 OTHER AVENUES

Professional services may not be for you, and there are TV types who have retrained in all manner of careers. Joanne Mallon, an ex-producer, now practises as a life and career coach, specialising in working with people in media through medialifecoach. com. She’s helped people move into teaching, media coaching – even garden design and yoga teaching.

Many become entrepreneurs, where the skills you use in TV are essential: generating the idea and communicating it to investors. A business plan is just a fancy programme proposal with numbers. Negotiation, project management, budgeting, staffing, blagging favours, cutting costs, dealing with rejection – a TV producer is already an entrepreneur. Jason Gibb left a successful career at RDF to start Nudo, an olive oil company: “I learned from TV to become an overnight expert in anything. New business is about learning – the quicker you do it, the less it costs. I didn’t know the first thing about olive oil. I went on courses and read. Now I supply Selfridges.”

Times are tough – even more so than usual for television. But there’s a world outside, and there can be a place in it for you, if your passion eventually succumbs to the temptation of sterling. Don’t be afraid to explore when the time feels right. Seek and ye shall find.

➤ Barry Shaverin worked in TV for 12 years, mostly as a freelance development producer, until 2005. He qualified as a barrister in his spare time, and has worked in bid writing, client relationship management for one of the “Big Four” audit firms, and in new product development within financial services. He also founded SpareKeys.com

by Amy Walker

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