It was late on a Tuesday evening in February when an email arrived from Media Parents. It announced the launch of a ‘Series Producer Training School’, which was being set up by the popular factual indie betty who wanted to invest in the training of a new generation of series producers, writes Louise Mason, a PD and Edit Producer who has found work through Media Parents. Louise’s article details the experiences of three people from Media Parents who were selected for the course, and is interspersed with tips on series producing from course leader Sarah Freethy.
Such a course was music to my ears. As an experienced PD & Edit Producer I’d been offered the chance to ‘step up’ to Series Producer before but I’d turned the opportunities down – believing the jump upwards too big a leap without training. I’m the kind of person that needs to feel that I know what I’m doing – learning ‘on the job’ was easier to do when I was more junior, but with a role like SP I just didn’t want to take the risk. So the prospect of the training betty were offering was really exciting and incredibly welcome.
Tip Number 1 : Establish the look and feel of your series right at the start; the musical tone, the colour palette and the graphic feel should be in place before you start filming, to ensure there’s consistency throughout. Remember, you speak volumes with the font that you choose…
To be considered as a candidate, there was an application form to fill in which, as well as all the basics, asked searching questions such as what we thought made a good Series Producer, and why we believed we were SP material amongst other things. This was followed by a telephone interview a few weeks later and finally, a phone call to say I’d made the grade. I was over the moon.
Tip Number 2 : Try to write Job Specs for all your team; make sure you set them goals and let them know what’s expected of them. Most problems stem from a lack of clarity and communication within the team. This also applies to your crew; to get the best out of them make sure they have been briefed before a shoot about the characters, the stories and the set ups you want to film on the day.
There were 12 places in total, three of which went to Media Parents members. The course was to be run over two months, with sessions taking place in the evenings and at weekends. The training was thorough and extensive and we were lucky to have the most fantastic teacher in the form of Sarah Freethy, an executive producer who had worked at betty making series such as Country House Rescue, and The Food Hospital.
Tip Number 3 : Get your PDs to write shoot notes at the end of every day so that you can keep on top of everything that’s been shot and your story arcs in the edit. If you’re using Edit Producers then making time for a PD viewing is respectful of their work and will make sure that nothing has fallen through the cracks.
There were nine sessions, from ‘Where to Start’, moving through budgets and scheduling, casting and business affairs, leadership, compliance, the shoot, the edit, health & safety and the finishing touches such as dealing with press and publicity. As well as having access to the wisdom and experience of a lot of the senior staff at betty, experts came in for particular sessions – Jan Tomalin ran the compliance morning, and Sue Ahern gave an inspirational session on leadership.
Tip Number 4 : You will always be asked for a Series Synopsis, Character Biogs, Episode Synopses and Billings for every show, as well as photographs that can illustrate the entire series, for press and Internationals - don’t leave it all to the very end of the process, gather everything as you go along.
There was homework, which I loved doing but had the advantage of not having a fulltime job for the duration of the course. We were set tasks such as creating an editorial brief and a running order for a brand new series, or creating a compliance bible. Feedback would then be given to us individually. For the people who were producing and directing throughout, I think it was a bit more of a challenge to fit it in, but the opportunity we were being given was such a good one that everyone really embraced it wholeheartedly.
Tip Number 5 : Most casting for a primetime, network, Features, Fact Ent or Specialist Factual programme is a numbers game; make sure you work backwards from your filming date to set realistic goals for your casting team, so they know what’s expected of them. Top load your casting team to get the best leads, fast.
The final session ended with a ‘Question Time’ style panel of Liz Warner, Walter Iuzzolino and Tina Flintoff – where we got some amazing advice on series producing and what to do next to get our first break. Two of the students had in fact started their first SP contracts whilst the course was underway, which has to be testament to its enormous success.
All in all, the inaugural betty SP Training School was a fantastic thing to be a part of, and I’m so glad I was chosen. The course was truly brilliant and all credit must go to betty for having the insight to see the need for providing us with such valuable training – they really did us proud. Hopefully, this training will now be recognised by production companies and broadcasters and its ‘graduates’ taken seriously as new SP talent. We all had many years of experience as PDs / edit producers/ series directors between us, now we’ve got a solid training in how to be an excellent Series Producer on top.
And as for the 12 of us who attended the course, we are planning on staying in touch and regularly meeting up to swap stories and give each other support, because it’s now down to us to get out into the world of series producing. For my part, I’m lucky enough to start my first Series Producer job on Tuesday and I simply can’t wait to get started, and put all that I’ve learnt into practice.
Here are the thoughts of two of my lovely co-graduates, who are also Media Parents members:
Robin O’Sullivan: http://www.mediaparents.co.uk/freelancers/30/robin-osullivan
Betty’s SP course was one of those rare opportunities in television – a chance to test drive a role before being thrown in at the deep end. Like many of you, I’ve always thought I had a good idea of what it means to be an SP but taking a comprehensive course – particularly one that was so hands on – opened my eyes to invaluable secrets, the kinds of things you’d only know once you’d done the job a few times. The course leader and guest lecturers were open and inspiring, and the other attendees a wide mix of people I’d be excited to work with in the future. I’ve come away with a cache of great contacts, a head brimming with ideas and a real excitement about the role. Now I just need that first SP job (which I feel sure is to come soon)!
Emma Boswell: http://www.mediaparents.co.uk/freelancers/4821/emma-boswell
I was lucky enough to get one of the places on SP School so for the past 12 weeks, alongside my day job as lead producer on a new series for BBC One, I’ve been learning the ins and outs of what it takes to be a good SP. It was both an inspiring and daunting 12 weeks – with the emphasis on inspiring. We were given an extremely thorough instruction from EP Sarah Freethy guiding us through every aspect of series producing, from the ed spec to owning and nurturing a project more than anyone else on the team, knowing what to fight for and when to make compromises and how to manage relationships from Commissioning Editors and Execs to the day to day support of a team. We got a sense that SP-ing can be the most creatively rewarding and the most lonely place to be – Walter Iuzzolino’s words stick in my mind never to do a job unless you’re prepared to love it and become it – I wrote that in big letters!
The course leaves you with a lot of knowledge – as Sarah Freethy said, much of it we do know already from years working as PDs and making one offs, but what you learn on the job isn’t always the best way to do things so this has been just as much a course in how to be the best SP.