Before I had my daughter I was a Producer/Director on all sorts of weird and wonderful shows, never quite knowing where my next adventure would be, writes Anna Burns.
From a desert island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean (Shipwrecked) to an operating theatre filming, gulp, cosmetic surgery (10 Years Younger) or in Rio with a bunch of hot young things (Britain’s Next Top Model) to nudists in New York (What’s The Problem with Anne Robinson). Wherever my job took me I was sure to have an experience I would never forget.
As a kid my Dad used to mock me ‘Anna if there were exams in TV you’d pass with flying colours.’ ‘Haha Dad!’ but maybe he was on to something. After leaving Uni I started out as runner at Granada TV. There I worked my way up through the ranks, from junior researcher to researcher to Insert Director. And on some of the biggest entertainment shows at that time ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ (Matthew Kelly is genuinely THE nicest man in show business) ‘Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes (yes Rachel Hunter I will never forget your impersonation of Marilyn Monroe) and ‘You’ve Been Framed’ (nothing funnier than dogs and cats).
After four unforgettable years at Granada and just days before Christmas I impulsively said yes to a job in London, starting the day after New Year’s Day. Was I mad? No place to live and just a handful of people I knew down there, I packed up my car and off I went. My Dad’s last words ‘The road goes both ways’. I never looked back.
I got to work on all types of shows – T4′s Popworld, The Frank Skinner Show, The Patrick Kielty Show (lucky Cat Deeley)… I even tried my hand at a quiz show ‘Soap Addicts’. Never seen it? No, nor did many others. But then I got a great opportunity to AP on Wife Swap USA for ABC Television. Wow that is one show that will stay with me forever. A home schooling, vegan, bible bashing family from Florida Vs. an extremely loud, meat eating, cursing family from Virginia. Fireworks. On that I learnt how to make the best telly from a great director, Tayte Simpson. AND how to talk someone back into agreeing to be filmed when they are about to call time on the whole programme. Disaster averted.
Soon after I was directing programmes of my own and I took everything I had learnt in all those years to create the best TV I could. But then whilst stood in four inches of snow, in the middle of nowhere filming for The Biggest Loser, I was battling morning sickness and I knew this would be my last chance to direct. Having a child would mean I could no longer pack a bag at a moments notice and disappear around the country or the world for what could be months, nor would I want to.
So in the later stages of my pregnancy I edit produced. I had stepped into this role before on Supersize V Superskinny and How To Look Good Naked. And sometimes as a director I think we can become too close to our rushes. When you edit produce you bring another way of looking at it, fresh eyes I guess. Then the Exec of Masterchef, David Ambler, bumped into me when I was about to drop and said ‘…just let me know when you’re ready to come back to work, loads of our Edit Producers are Mums’. Sorted.
However, what I didn’t plan for was soon after having my daughter I became a single parent. I was left with no choice but to relocate back to the north for the support of my family. If life is like a game of snakes and ladders that was one big snake I went down. Right back to where I started at my Mum and Dad’s. I felt like the cards were stacked against me now, all my contacts were in London and I was not just a parent trying to figure a way back into TV but a single parent. If I’m not at home to put my daughter to bed who is? She’d be like orphan Annie.
I have edit produced a few programmes since I’ve been back in Manchester – CBBC’s Marrying Mum & Dad, BBC3′s Young Tailor of the Year, Channel 4′s Baggage – all thanks to the support of the BBC’s Talent Manager, Victoria Roye. And I’ve made it work for the job and my daughter. But the contracts have been few and far between. And although my experience may get me an interview, the fact I can’t pull long hours at the drop of the hat won’t always work for a programme, especially if it’s a new series. I get it though, sometimes a show can face difficulties in the edit and the only way to fix it is to put your nose to the grindstone.
I recently went for dinner with a couple of old telly friends, an Exec and a Director. When I explained I felt TV had turned its back on me because I could no longer give my life to the job, they looked at me and said ‘Well yes, what did you expect?’ So just when I was starting to feel invisible and like ‘Is this it? Do I go and get a boring job and live out the rest of my boring life?’ I heard about the Media Parents Back To Work Scheme. And more excitingly a chance to attend the Nations & Regions Conference at Media City. Amy Walker looked at my CV, said I had great credits and she’d love to invite me. Right there and then, with just those words, I felt excited about TV again.
The two days I spent at the festival gave me the boost I needed. To just be in the same room as Peter Fincham, the Director of ITV, the CEO of Nine Lives, Cat Lewis and Nell Butler, the brains behind Come Dine With Me, was great. Some interesting discussions were had, should the BBC still have the licence fee? That debate will rage on. How our viewing habits have changed and the future is more and more we like to select our own nights entertainment through IPlayer, Netflix, Sky On Demand…But still roughly over 90% of us want to be a part of live TV. And it’s partly Twitter, Facebook we have to thank for that. Rather than waiting to discuss what went down on Corrie over a coffee at work, we can discuss it with friends or strangers online there and then. There was a discussion on the rise and possibly fall of TV formats and I learnt a new buzz word, ‘fixed rig’ as in One Born Every Minute. But the big news for me is it’s the YouTubers who could be stealing our attention soon and already have followings bigger than Gaga’s ‘Monsters’. We’ll see, I personally hadn’t heard of half the YouTube names banded about. Guess I’m out of touch and need to watch something other than CBeebies.
What I did take away from everything said was that the TV industry is more exciting than ever, with endless possibilities given the imaginations we have, the technology now there for us to keep telling those stories. But as someone who is not a huge fan of politicians, I was happy to duck out of Harriet Harman’s address to instead meet with ITV’s Talent Exec, Tracy Walker thanks to Media Parents. I had a great meeting with Tracy, also a Mum, discussing all sorts of avenues of work for me. So I don’t think Harriet would feel too snubbed.
Overall it was fantastic to be part of such an amazing TV festival and mostly because it reminded me that I do want to work in TV, it’s all I’ve known, it’s what I love and I’m good at it. And why should being a parent stop me in my tracks?
I think my ‘networking’ skills were a little rusty and maybe I was grinning inanely at everyone. But as there was no alcohol involved I think it’s safe to say I didn’t embarrass myself, too much. Let’s hope this is the start of a new chapter in my career, and in mine and my daughter’s life.