Media Parents

5 minutes with… Ben Justice, in development

August 4, 2012 @ 4:49 pm Posted in News Comments

Going from Pretender to Developer

Hi there, my name is Ben – I’m 27 and I am trying to make my way in the world of television in either a development role creating formats and ideas, as a contestant or question researcher or generally assisting pre-production. At this point I’m sure that I could go into the countless productions I’ve made tea on, my numerous inspirations I’ve had and how I’m trying to move from my media degree to the industry and how I worked really REALLY hard.

Ben Justice at the Media Parents 2nd birthday party in July. http://www.mediaparents.co.uk/freelancers/3615/ben-justice

But I can’t.

You see my story is a little…unusual. You see although I have indeed loved TV my whole life, and have always wanted to make shows, my university education was in fact in animation – the traditional kind that Disney does. Now in hindsight, it seems it was a bit of a frivolous decision, but everything is easier in hindsight. Heck, I’d like to be able to set my life PERMANENTLY in hindsight. Options  Select  ‘Hindsight On’  Confirm. The thing is when I took the course, the years before my final year – everyone within…err…..a year had found work. I remember thinking ‘a year?!? – wow they must be rubbish!’ not realising the fate that would befall our year.

A screenshot from Ben's animation graduation film. http://www.mediaparents.co.uk/freelancers/3615/ben-justice

We made a great animated animated short, it toured the world – got nominated for major animation festivals, what should have been the standard route into the industry. I will spare you the sob stories but safe to say through a mix of recession and a lack of risk taking by the larger studios only five had found work after a year. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones, but after doing a couple of smaller gigs making animated museum tours I finally got a chance to make tea, wash plates and clean up as a runner at a major post-production studio dealing with major movies. This was the big chance! I’d get to train at last! Hurrah!

Then something quite strange happened.

A TV company suddenly got in contact with me totally out of the blue to offer me an interview to be the assistant to their key gameshow creator. ‘Wait? Me?! I haven’t even done TV!’ I spluttered over the dishes I was washing. However as I spluttered, my stomach fluttered. Gameshows have been a huge passion for me my whole life, and it was a dream to make one. The thing is – I just love games, quizzes, puzzles…anything like that. I’d make the Christmas quiz with my Grandad, chuck cuddly toys down the stairs as if they were ‘Gladiators’ (I will point out this wasn’t in the last six months), absorb general knowledge. In later life I’d go on a few gameshows – and my game loving exploits not only lead me to create my own online to captive audiences of messageboard goers, but also become an amateur poker title-holder. I just absorb games like a sponge in the shape of Bruce Forsyth – there are few gameshows I haven’t seen. My development in my own time had led the TV company to contact me and I went for the job against two others. It could have been there and then I got the job of my dreams, but as it was my stomach fluttered a bit too much, and for whatever reason I came second and left cigarless. The spluttering over the dishes that night-shift turned to muttering.

Assistant adjudicator's seat. http://www.mediaparents.co.uk/freelancers/3615/ben-justice

Unfortunately, I was barely making any money as it was and I made the very hard decision to not only leave, but to give up on animation. I’ll quickly whisk you down ‘Plot Avenue’ by outlining that this was the major shift towards me looking more widely at media.

In-between the time of that and my next major gig, I just worked really hard. I worked as a bookie, as a banker, and a PA (although I assured the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker that their jobs were safe for now) whilst also in that time going back to the company that first interviewed me for a bit of work experience working for Charlie Brooker – making tiny spaceship props and pointing out that ‘Pac-Land’ was definitely NOT ‘Pac-Man’. All the time I kept doing my art and started taking commissions, developing my format ideas and trying them out on accommodating players online and generally trying to start more fires than ‘The Prodigy’.

After a while, another TV company in Wales got in contact with me out of the blue noting two things – one being that I was a poker player, the other being that I was madly into games and was creating them myself. They offered me a contract working on their current poker show as a new media editor, but also wanted to pick my brains on gameshows they and others were developing. I cannot tell you how exciting this was. In my second week I was sitting in on a genuine gameshow pitch and was asked to voice my opinions openly. I was trusted to be taken into the fold on an internal idea and we looked at it objectively, and having seen it for the first time, spotted a quite game and show-breaking flaw within the first 15 minutes. I might have saved several weeks of development, but the company suddenly didn’t have a show to take forward to show the BBC.

Later that week, I went to the head office and showed a germ of an idea I had to  demonstrate I was coming up with ideas. The concept was basic – an ‘unfair’ gameshow. I figured we had had a lot of ‘mean’ shows – but not one that was quite literally unfair. I demonstrated how gameplay would work and smiled to myself when he seemed to take to it, and did that ‘rubbing your glasses with a cleaning cloth thing you only do when you are considering something.’

‘Lets go with that.’

‘Lets go with…err…what?’

‘Lets pitch this. We’ll give you the time and any support you need, go and develop it for the BBC.’

‘…’

Ben Justice is in the TALENT section of www.mediaparents.co.uk

So after I had taken some smelling salts I got to work and discovered that I was quite good at this developing lark. I came up with several ideas for rounds, question researched myself and generally made a gameshow more or less by myself. Later on I would travel to Bath to meet the creator of another gameshow to iron out some bumps and brainstorm some new rounds. I’d also work on another gameshow working with one of the most respected quiz adjudicators and would learn a lot more assisting him. After much work and quiz researching – ‘The Advantage’ was born – and after being cleared two internal pitches I found myself on a train to Manchester with a huge complement of the company ready to present my final pitch for my gameshow to go on primetime TV at the first time of asking. I would like to say I was better than thinking about all the washing up I had done earlier in my career – but I wasn’t! After arriving in the old studios in Manchester – we pitched our little hearts out – but ultimately after an agonising six week wait – it was all over. The commissioner didn’t feel the theme was ‘strong’ enough and that was that. Gah. I hoped to pitch again to another company but then the latest twist happened.

The people who had trusted me and shown me so much faith retired from the company – and suddenly all my hard work wasn’t going to result in a job. A major reshuffle at the company occurred and as a result I had no chance of getting the career in development with them. Other than the fact it has been several months since then, this is the situation I find myself in – knocking on the glass of the TV industry doing a funny dance trying to get noticed.

My somewhat unconventional route to the TV industry shouldn’t be something that undermines me, heck – it’s what makes me an attractive proposition. I have a natural eye for an edit and storyboarding thanks to my animation background, I have format making skills from testing on contestants online, and I have artistic skills that not many could utilise – and that’s without going into my ‘gamey geekdom’. I want to make entertainment television so bad and have plenty of ideas already in my head ready to share.

Sometimes in this life you have to ‘speculate to accumulate’ – and I think there’s a good chance I could be bloody brilliant. Until I get the chance to find out if I am or not, I’ll keep rolling the dice.

http://www.mediaparents.co.uk/freelancers/3615/ben-justice

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by Amy Walker

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