Mired in the snotty, skint end of maternity leave, my first thought at seeing the Media Parents Back to Work scheme was a wistful “wouldn’t that be nice” before rescuing the baby from the stairs. But two people sending me the link in one weekend was a sign – or at least, enough to register in my sleep-addled brain, so I applied.
And got a place. NOW the logistics started. Could I really leave the baby for three nights? Could her dad get time off work at short notice? If the baby (and dad) survived would I survive the emotional wrench? It was a crash course in Getting On with It – a trial run for string-pulling behind the scenes without letting work down.
Then it dawned on me. Three nights. Away. In a bed. With just myself. Emotional wrench that it indeed was it was also the most exciting prospect I’d faced for many months…
Pretty much the best thing about the scheme was being plonked, without baby / household / distraction, right in the middle of TV world. This isn’t dipping a toe back in – it’s full on, 10hr days of just thinking, talking, listening, watching TV and the executives running the TV industry. Intimidating, overwhelming, intense, yes – but so quickly exhilarating and inspiring, too. With admittedly, moments of “so nothing’s changed…”
After a year away from development meetings and commissioner briefings I was keen to see the Meet the Controller sessions. Informative and entertaining, these were a great way to get up to date on what different channels are looking for, what’s coming up and where things have moved on to (or not) since I last worked in development. There was the odd edgy moment such as when Charlotte Moore faced repeated questioning from Krishnan Guru-Murthy about being a woman (and nice) in charge of BBC One – frustrating to watch, when no one had raised the issue with Danny Cohen, Cassian Harris or later Peter Fincham. The latter handled his own interrogation about “risk” (TV buzzword of the moment) with wit…
Diversity was also on the agenda, with sessions exploring TV’s record on and off camera. Sky is introducing quotas; the BBC was keen to talk up its forthcoming Black Britain season, which includes a David Olusoga-fronted History of Black Britain (which won TWO CDN Diversity Awards last night). I was glad to see this is one conversation at least which does seem to be moving forward since I last hung out in TV world… Time will tell.
My favourite session, being a nosy parker (why else would I work in documentaries?!) was Sizzles that Sold the Show. An extremely rare opportunity to spy on other people’s taster tapes and hear why they did or didn’t work… 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy was the standout winner, a funny, lo-fi tape with no bells and whistles, just a smart idea with great characterful delivery. 30% of first pitches now apparently arrive on commissioners’ desks with an (unfunded) tape – so smart, cheap ideas are the way forward. Although one of the panellists was from content agency Fifth Street, and revealed that production companies hire his services to make killer sizzle tapes. That can’t be cheap.
I also went to How to be a Better Indie, expecting to learn how to handle the commissioning process better in the eyes of broadcasters, though it was also largely about how indies treat freelancers. Well, yup, it ain’t always great, hence the anxiety I and other Back to Workers were feeling about returning to the workplace. Still with betty and Wall to Wall represented on stage it’s clear production companies can make it work for all concerned.
The most depressing session for me, and not just because I’m waving goodbye to the age bracket, was about the 16-34 audience. A lively and riled-up panel discussed where now for young viewers, with BBC Three facing a move online (“a kick in the knickers”, Fox Project’s Georgia said..). An impassioned exploration of what TV does, and should mean for younger viewers – and where it, and they, might go in the future.
Networking is not my favourite thing, especially in an environment where everyone else is GO GO GO and you’re still trying to remember where you left your self-confidence (somewhere around 7cm dilated, probably). But with allies in the other Back to Workers and the fab mentoring from Amy Walker I did feel able to get involved.
So, a success. I felt reconnected with the industry, my lactating boobs didn’t explode after three nights away, and most importantly, my partner welcomed me home with the darkly muttered words “…I don’t know how you do it”. Quite.