After 15 years working as a news reporter and correspondent for ITV and ITN, with two children under 5, I had decided to take a break from TV. I loved my job, but I was driving hundreds of miles a day, and then trying to get back from Peterborough or Northampton in time to read the children a bedtime story every night was exhausting. People told me I needed to rethink my work life balance. They were probably right.
I decided instead to write the novel that all English literature graduates plan to write and freelance as a journalist – mainly working from home. I also started doing some media training and – shock of all shocks – looked after my children myself! But after a year out of the game, I missed TV and admittedly was finding looking after the kids and trying to work from home more exhausting than a 200 mile commute.
Instead of going back to the news-room, I wanted to try to move into factual and documentaries as I’d always enjoyed making longer programmes: I’d produced and directed a few half hours and short films while I was a reporter and health correspondent. But factual is a totally different world from news and I didn’t know anyone in it. So I spent almost a year talking to people and working out how my skills as a TV news reporter and producer/director fitted into the factual world. And now, thanks to Media Parents, for the very first time I’m officially working in the factual world!
I’ve just finished archive producing on the World’s Scariest series for Channel 5 at Mentorn Media, and I’ve since moved desks at Mentorn to help on Traffic Cops for a month. However, I’ve had a lot of invaluable help and advice from people along the way, which I think is what made swapping genres possible. Cue the Oscars “I’d like to thank” speech. But I would…
I started by applying for the Women in Film and Television mentoring scheme, where I was lucky enough to get a place. There I met a fantastic group of women all trying to move on to the next or a different stage, and I had a great mentor, Will Hanrahan, who was also originally a news reporter and presenter, but now makes factual programmes and set up his own production company, FirstLook TV. Will acted as one of my referees when I finally got to that stage of the interview process. I went to lots of events like FastTrain, the freelance training day at the BBC where I came across Media Parents. I went along to networking events, and tried to find out a much as I could about the industry and where I would fit in.
Six months on, I was pitching my own documentary at Sheffield Docfest in front of 200 people and a panel of commissioners. Thank goodness for a background in live TV – but it was still nerve-wracking! A few months later I joined Media Parents thanks to discovering them at FastTrain.
I applied for a few jobs via the site, but felt that I was not ticking the right boxes. The criteria were very specific – it seemed that to work on a particular documentary series on a channel as a producer you needed to have already worked on a similar show, on the same channel with the same job title. My news experience was not going to do the trick.
But then I was invited to an interview for World’s Scariest. It was incredibly informal in comparison to a news board, where you face three or four people who test your general knowledge and then get you to do a live stand-up in the room. Amy Walker, the series producer, and Matt Holden, the executive producer, seemed very positive about me working with them …and I started the next week, covering as an AP.
This led to being offered the job of finding and licensing the archive across the series of four programmes. Initially, I had reservations about the archive role, as I was used to being out in the field and haven’t had a desk job since I worked in newspapers. However, I really liked the team of people that Amy Walker had brought together through Media Parents and Mentorn to work on the series, and so I decided to give it a go.
That was more than 3 months ago and I’m still here. In fact I really enjoyed the archive producing: finding footage, negotiating with commercial archives and individuals and liaising with Mentorn’s lawyer James Jackson over some of the very unusual and specific things some people wanted written into their licence agreements.
It was great to see some of the ideas I’d had, and pieces of archive I’d found, make it to the final cut. And I got to go out on a couple of shoots including an unforgettable trip to Germany with the Scariest Animals P/D Zoe Fryer where we interviewed an animal trainer in German – and Zoe filmed him getting way closer to a lion than I would want to.
Working at Mentorn has been a great experience, three months on I still love the team I’ve been working with, I’ve been given more opportunities to work on other programmes with the company… and I’m really hoping everyone will be back soon for World’s Scariest – Series 3.