On the plane to Edinburgh all I could think was the same thought over and over again, writes Harriet Wallace, two whole days without children, two whole days without children, TWO WHOLE DAYS WITHOUT CHILDREN! I know this really wouldn’t be a big deal to many people, but to me (someone who hasn’t spent one night away from their children in the last 5 and a half years), this was a very big deal. Two days of uninterrupted adult conversation, two days of clean, snot-free clothes and most excitingly two whole nights of sleep.
Now, I don’t want you to start thinking that I just applied for the Media Parents back to work scheme to get away from my children – although as the school holidays draw to an exhausting end, this seems a pretty valid reason to me. I applied because there was what can only be described as, a creative ‘hole’ in me. Emotionally I am fulfilled, financially we just about scrape through but creatively, there is definitely something lacking. I miss the buzz, the banter and most of all the funny, intelligent people who make the weird and wonderful world of telly go round. By the time I had left the Edinburgh TV Festival, I felt like that hole could be filled (Oh god not sure this analogy is working now!), and my excitement for returning to the land of telly had been well and truly ignited.
I would love to say that I arrived in Edinburgh bristling with confidence and raring to go. The reality is, I was terrified. It was like my first day at school, times a thousand. What do I wear? Where do I go? Will I recognise anyone? And if I do, will they recognise me? I have been out of TV for ten years, and all of a sudden ten years felt like a very, very long time. Luckily for me, I had three other women to walk through the school gates with, feeling exactly the same emotions – Sidra, Ali and Kirsty. This is one of the real benefits of Media Parents – the support, the network, and the solidarity you get from it – you’re in it together. These three women, who I can genuinely say will be friends for life, were three of the funniest, most creative people I have ever met. With a TV credit list between them that would make any programme controller salivate: Faking It; Location, Location, Location and The Comedy Lab, to name but a few – they had no reason to feel nervous, but they did. We all did. The Festival started, we all held our breath and jumped in.
The Meet the Controller sessions gave me an insight into the personality and tastes of the people in charge of the major channels. From Janice Hadlow’s controlled, erudite eloquence ‘It’s not all about the ratings… I’m looking for original, distinctive, surprising shows…I want strong flavours, even if they’re divisive’ to Ben Frow’s refreshing, if not occasionally brutal, attitude ‘We’re not a niche channel. Ratings do count for us. Money does count for us… For me, the title is everything.’ One of the most inspirational sessions I attended was the ‘The Ones to Watch – Live Pitch’ where seven incredibly brave young people had just 1 minute 30 to pitch their short film to C4’s Random Acts commissioner Tabitha Jackson. I also enjoyed the ‘Online and Social Media’ session, which brought me up to speed on the latest multi-media developments and the various platforms that television is now working across.
And it wasn’t just information I got from the festival I also got a huge amount of laughs. ‘The worst TV I Have Ever Made and All It Taught Me’ was just brilliant and had me literally crying with laughter. Highlights included: ‘Beat The Crusher with Freddie Star’ and ‘There’s something about Miriam’ (“Unbeknownst to you, you’ve just dry humped a man, how do you feel?”). And to finish it all off Dara O’Briain’s hilarious compering of the Television Awards was the perfect antidote to maybe just one too many TVisms (Marmite anyone?). All in all, it was a memorable few days. Oh, and you know what, lots of people did recognise me and by the end, whilst I still felt a little bit awkward and a little bit, well, ‘mumsy’ I did feel like I could do this telly thing again.
From all that I saw during the two days, one thing became very clear to me. Over the last ten years, nothing has really changed. When it comes to making good TV, It’s still all about the story. The audience may have changed how and when they want to watch that story, but as for the content, they still want the same things: to be moved, surprised, challenged, excited, informed and above all entertained.
On the plane back from Edinburgh I didn’t have just one thought in my head, I had a hundred. New TV ideas bounced around with thoughts of YouTube and Netflix all to the throbbing beat of my hangover (so much for the deep peaceful sleep!). But the overriding thought, the one that kept pushing itself to the surface above all the others – I cant wait to see my children and tell them all about the Festival. Were they interested? Of course they weren’t. All they wanted to know was had I got any free stuff, and did that include any chocolate? Luckily I had, and it did.