Here is the first of the blogs from the Media Parents Back to Work Scheme Winners sharing information from the Edinburgh TV Festival. Anne Henry is a Comedy and Current Affairs Producer, sponsored by Channel 4.
One of the benefits of being on the Media Parents scheme, writes Anne Henry, is that Amy Walker, the indefatigable and inspiring dynamo who runs Media Parents, will not let you be a slouch in the networking department. As soon as we arrived Amy gave us an informal seminar on networking, and then cast us out into the speed-dating sessions. A first for the fest this year, these are 10-minute slots where you can meet commissioners and talent managers. I had a hot date with Melissa Clay-Peters, talent supremo of Princess & Shine, who revealed they are looking for producers with experience in live current affairs to train up as gallery producers for The Wright Stuff (part-time if you like – worth knowing about).
After that, we dived into the festival proper. Sessions I liked: the screening of the first part of Sky Atlantic’s new Hunderby special, followed by a discussion with Julia Davis and Rufus Jones chaired by Sue Perkins. Julia talked about how her writing partnership with Barunka O’Shaughnessy works – Julia likes to focus on the characters and the big picture, and Barunka is responsible for the tight plotting and end-of-part cliffhangers. She also said she’d love to do her own version of Neighbours or Dallas. I sincerely hope someone will take her up on this.
I also enjoyed a discussion about ‘The Future of News’ with Peter Barron from Google, James Harding from the BBC, Ben de Pear from C4 News and John Ryley from Sky, talking about how news is changing in the digital age. Ben de Pear talked about how C4 News is innovating to meet the challenge of reaching a younger audience who prefer to get their news online with things like 4NewsWall, C4 News’s GIF-based Tumblr site; but also said something as simple as hiring headline writers for online really improved their numbers. I was keen to meet Ben at Edinburgh but as he was called back to London by work Amy Walker is fixing up a meeting for us.
It was great to meet my Channel 4 sponsor, Deputy Chief Creative Officer and Head of Factual Ralph Lee, who gave a compelling defence of Channel 4 as a public service broadcaster in the ‘Edinburgh Does Question Time’ session. He was backed up by Jane Turton of All3media who sang Channel 4’s praises as one of the few risk-takers that, unlike US broadcasters, will still commission off paper.
At ‘How Not To Pitch’ Jonathan Stadlen of Knickerbockerglory (behind Pineapple Dance Studios) told us how he once went quite literally balls-out for a commission, after cycling in to the meeting and not realising he’d worn a hole through his shorts. Other tales of horror included being locked in a commissioner’s cupboard in Speedos and trying to fit a team of Brazilian salsa dancers into a tiny BBC meeting room for the Strictly pitch. This last went down so well that Strictly was pitched internationally with an interlude from a dance troupe. Takeaways from the session were: never take the talent to a pitch; gimmicks are good (except when they go wrong, see above); and, I guess, don’t wear cycling shorts to a business meeting.
Amazon Studios chief Roy Price was another stand-out. He talked about how so many people are now making TV, for Amazon it’s more like the record business than programming – he said they were ‘eventising’, ‘You’re just focused on creating a great album and not so focused on the other people and what they’re doing on Wednesday at nine.’ Their commissioning model is really interesting – you can submit scripts online and 6.25% of their produced pilots have been from new writers who came through this way. He said Amazon subscribers act as a kind of focus group, voting and giving their comments on pilots (you can also comment on trailers for yet-to-be-made movies and even storyboards on the Amazon site). I met some Amazon execs afterwards, and enthused by the session, gave them unbidden my notes on The Man In The High Castle pilot, which I am sure they appreciated.
There are too many fun and interesting things to mention, and I urge you to apply next year. The only real problem is the comedown. Now I’m home, inexplicably the kids aren’t offering me canapés and their thoughts on the future of digital every five minutes. But as media parents, I suppose this is our cross to bear. Huge thanks to Media Parents and Channel 4 for sponsoring me.