I want to start to with a confession… writes Producer Andrew Fenner. I don’t have children. There it is. It’s out there. Please don’t hate me. I do always feel a fraud when I go Media Parents events. People will smile sweetly at me and ask “What have you got?” or “how do you cope with childcare issues?” and I just mutter a bit, look at my shoes and try and change the subject. The thing that attracted me to Media Parents was that on the home page it says it’s for “anyone who wants to work flexibly to balance the demands of media and other commitments”.
Having spent 15 years working in the media, filming all over the world, working weekends, nights and even Christmas day I decided it was time to concentrate on those “other commitments” and get my life balance in order. As well as my full time job I was a trustee of a charity, helped my wife run her training company and being a lay preacher I had church commitments meaning that I spoke all over the country.
When I left the BBC the idea of a female Producer with children working part time was acceptable (if tricky to organise); a male Producer with children working part time was considered curious, but acceptable (but still tricky to organise); a male producer with no children wanting to work part time was considered…well..lazy! So 4 years ago I decided that if I wanted to focus more time on my other commitments and less on being a cog in the corporate machine then I would have to go freelance.
I’m glad to say that attitudes are now changing and certainly I have recently seen in BBC North a successful job share of a development producer between a young mother and a male colleague who like me, just wanted more time to do other things. Attitudes towards what needs doing and where you need to do it are also changing.
One of my first jobs back at the BBC after I went freelance was on Songs of Praise (which I had worked on before I left). This Sunday tea time institution is a joy to work on, partly because of the healthy the work/life balance ethos that the management have. Approximately 90% of the staff have children ranging from infants to teenagers and their working patterns reflect this. PC’s are allowed to do paperwork at home if required, Producers can script anywhere and there is a “grown up” attitude of as long as the job is done well, on time and on budget, then you are allowed to work flexibly. (This is in stark contrast to some productions which I have worked on where the PM would have been happier if they had a clocking in machine on their desk and ankle tags on us all so they knew where we were at all times!)
At the time of my return the programme was preparing for its move from the crumbling Oxford Road to their new home in Media City UK in Salford Quays. Working in a building which is being decommissioned is a strange experience. Rooms, departments and entire floors would be cleared and tape put across the door like a police crime scene with signs saying “Decommissioned – Entry Forbidden”. As a result of this, they didn’t have a desk for me. Very quickly it was decided that I should work from home as all I really needed was a phone, computer and access to my BBC e-mails. So for the next 6 months I did just that. I went in for editorial content meetings with the Series Producer, went out filming and to the edit. The rest of the 3 programmes I made for them were all set up and scripted from my desk in the back bedroom (saving me time commuting and money on petrol and parking).
A couple of years later I did a similar collaboration when an exec wanted a taster tape cutting (I have FCP at home). He was in London; I live in Ormskirk in Lancashire. We could have met in Salford, but it was much more efficient for us to chat via phone/email and then for him to send me clips via Dropbox and me drop the film back to him the same way. When I was edit producing in London last year but had a hospital appointment back up North, again a simple export of the editors rough cut onto a memory stick was all I needed for me to write my VO for the episode I was working on in between appointments.
Technology is changing so fast that there are more roles (not just admin ones) which can be done from home saving time and money. But there does still seem to be a suspicion that if you are “working from home” that you spend all day playing with your children or in my case in front of the TV with a cup of tea and a packet of chocolate Hob Nobs. (There may be an element of this; I call it “research”). Occasionally working from home away from the distractions of the office can lead to you achieving more in your work and your home life. I think some elements of the industry need to treat us as “grown-ups” and embrace new working practices. At the end of the day (to coin and footballing cliché), it’s my name that appears at the end of the credits, so surely it’s in my interest to make the best programme possible?
I appreciate that not all productions can work like this but if you are tied to an office at least ask yourself the question “Do I really need to be here?”. So if anyone wants to see if it is possible to produce their programme from a back bedroom in Lancashire, then I’m available for hire, details on my profile page. Oh, and by the way, yes, I have been writing this blog in my PJ’s, with a cup of tea and a chocolate Hob Nob by my side.
Andrew Fenner is in the TALENT section of www.mediaparents.co.uk