Thanks to Media Parents Back to Work Scheme and sponsorship from Endemol Shine, I headed for the Edinburgh TV festival feeling daunted at the thought of rubbing shoulders with many of the most important people in the industry, and having to sell myself in a way I hadn’t done for a long time, writes Edit Producer Emma Sayce.
The theme of the festival was set by Jon Snow, who declared, in his MacTaggart lecture, that the UK TV industry is dangerously disconnected from huge chunks of the population. “We must examine ourselves”, he said, “and ask why we missed the story of what is happening in social housing before the Grenfell disaster struck, and why we got both Brexit and the general election so wrong. We are still made up”, he added, “of a ‘London elite’, and we desperately need to welcome into our ranks people from diverse geographical, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.”
Along with most of the audience I cried, and cheered, as he spoke. And, as a working mum (let’s not forget, another under-represented group in TV), I felt emboldened by his words, and ready to throw myself into the festival.
I traipsed up to the ‘speed-dating lounge’ where about 20 top talent managers were seated at single tables, offering 15 minutes of their time to anyone brave enough to sit down with them. I booked in with Melissa Clay Peters from Princess, and Caroline Carter and Julia Bird from the BBC. I ended up having three very relaxed chats with three very helpful women. Melissa was particularly generous, offering up contacts and introductions, and reassuring me that “we talent managers are not put off by big gaps on a CV – the vast majority of us are mums ourselves.”
Amy from Media Parents had set up a meeting via Twitter @mediaparents with Pat Younge, Creative Director of Sugar Films. Pat asked me about my previous experience and future plans, before offering really tailored advice and encouragement. I felt comfortable enough to admit that while I have ambitions to move into Series Producing, and Exec’ing, the ambition that underpins all of that is to find a way of working in the industry I love without making too many sacrifices on the family front. He recommended some reading which you can see in the @mediaparents twitterfeed. Pat’s key tip was to be bold, and to request longer, non-project-specific contracts from the companies I work for regularly. He also cautioned me against a dramatic change of direction (e.g. a move into digital, off the back of my social media work), and said I should build on the solid programme-making experience I have.
The geography of the TV festival (all in one circular venue) meant that, in between meetings, it was easy to bump into people I had worked with/for in the past – Tim Carter, CEO of Twenty Twenty, and Sam Lawrence, MD of Monkey Kingdom (an advocate of flexible working). I also caught up with Anouk Berendsen, Talent Manager at All3Media (an old friend from Granada days) and Anna Bonnadio, BBC Talent Manager, both of whom are very supportive of the Media Parents mission.
I was glad to sit down with Bella Lambourne, Global HR Director, Endemol Shine (my sponsors) for a glass of Bucks Fizz. She told me that they employ many working mums as EPs, SPs and Creative Heads and are trying to make it easier for mums to work as PDs.
Then, there were the ‘sessions’ – an opportunity to listen to, and be inspired by, some of the most brilliant talents in the industry … Charlie Brooker, Sir David Attenborough, Russell T Davies and Simon Chinn, not to mention the Youtube star Vuj who I’d never heard of, but who was fascinating and hilarious! I made a point of going to the key Channel Controller sessions and came out feeling on top of who’s who and what they are looking for.
I left Edinburgh with contacts made, CVs requested, meetings and introductions offered, and enquiries to answer about availability for specific projects. I have several leads to pursue, which I’m confident will lead to work in the next few months. Incidentally, two of those leads were generated by the tweeting I did during the festival.
I came away feeling that the TV industry is one ready to welcome back working mums, even if, like me, they have had a sizeable chunk of time out. The next test will be the work itself – and whether I can do it while still being the main presence in my children’s lives. I’m hoping that careful decisions about the jobs I take, and the path I follow, combined with a lot of self-discipline, will make that possible.