Media Parents Series Producer / Editor Ceri Rowlands on How to survive and thrive as a Freelancer outside London. Since writing this Ceri has landed a long contract as a Series Editor at Off The Fence Productions.
I’ve always loved a challenge and TV Series Producing, with it’s competing editorial, budgetary and relationship building demands, provides me with that in spades, writes Ceri Rowlands. My current challenge is my biggest to date: to keep up a regular flow of work in the South West, outside London where 95% of freelance jobs are located. When my children were babies, I was still free to work away. But now, with a 5 and 9 year old who take a dim and vociferous view of me absenting myself, and a husband who’s patiently sucked up the childcare for way too many years, the days of working Monday to Friday a two-hour train ride or one-hour flight away for months on end, are no longer an option.
So, I find myself in the position where I’m turning down cracking offers of London-based jobs with no certainty of securing a job locally. The solution, I’ve found, is to be flexible. So, in the gaps between Series Editor and Series Producer jobs in Cardiff and Bristol, I’ve taken Development, Casting and Edit Director roles.
Companies and individuals can sometimes take some persuading to take you on in a ‘less demanding’ role (not that they are though). The key is to communicate to the company, often best in person, that all your experience will make for a better production and ensure that their are lives easier. And at the end of the day, that’s what we all want.
When it comes to negotiating my rate, I adjust it according to the job, just as I did when I lived in London and moved between international, network and digital productions. My advice is to keep abreast of the ‘going rate’ for different production roles – you can ask questions about this, anonymously if you like, on the Media Parents watercooler. Also, be sure to communicate to a potential employer what additional skills and experience you can bring to the production. You may find yourself covering several roles and, if so, you’ll need to negotiate a fair rate.
Outside London it’s also far more acceptable to cross genres. So my time in Cardiff has seen me swing from Film, to Features to Specialist Factual. Other friends in the same boat have built up parallel careers as Web Producers. One turned to writing and is now a Costa Book Awards nominee.
The other challenge that life outside London brings is that, if you want to stay here, you simply can’t rely on talent websites alone to provide you with your next job. Most local companies recruit by word of mouth or through personal introductions. You have to network. Media Parents regularly organise Freelancer/Employer events in Bristol and Cardiff, where you can make new contacts as well as possibly securing your next job. I find them very helpful. And don’t worry if you can’t make it to their London events, there’s always SKYPE. This is how I connected with BBC Comm Ed Adrian Padmore last year; me in my kitchen in Cardiff, him in Broadcasting House (see photo above, it is me). Seek out any local Freelancer groups, social media or otherwise. Attend every networking event you can.
Having recently stepped up to the role of Series Editor, I’m now working towards securing an Exec role locally and have reached the stage where I’m also trying to generate my own work. Having successfully developed both a CBBC and S4C living history series for Indus TV, and worked up a makeover format for BBC Wales, which was then successfully re-commissioned, I’ve recently started developing my own programme ideas.
I’m used to diversifying – in my early twenties I swapped my career path in Law for one in TV. One year later I relocated from Cardiff to London, and then, via a stint in BSB and Channel 4’s Presentation Departments, became a Studio Director; first at Channel One TV and then ITN. Three years later I moved into Single Camera Directing and Producing. Eight years later I became a Series Producer and, more recently, I’ve been Series Editing. There were plenty of obstacles along the line, but with a lot of hard work and more than a fair helping of blind optimism and sheer bloody mindedness, I always found a way through.
As a result of this will to survive in TV, my CV of late may not look like the London ‘norm’ but it’s been an enjoyable ride so far. I’ve zoned my CV by job and have several tailored CVs so I send out the most relevant one to the job in hand. This life is certainly not nine to five, the days are long and if anything, I’m working harder than ever. But the big bonus is, I get to see my children. And you can’t say fairer than that.