Media Parents

5 minutes with… betty CEO Liz Warner on making the most of Edinburgh TV Festival

August 20, 2013 @ 9:19 pm Posted in News Comments

Edinburgh TV Festival aficionado Liz Warner shares her thoughts on GEITF (Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival) for anyone attending the festival for the first time, and those taking part in the Media Parents Back to Work Scheme. Four Media Parents delegates who have been out of the TV workplace on maternity leave are attending the Edinburgh TV festival from Thursday thanks to sponsorship from ITV, Channel 4, Endemol and the BBC.

Liz Warner, betty. Pic by Mark Johnson

Liz Warner’s Top Tips for making the most of GEITF:

1. Before you go: work out who you know that’s going and make appointments with them. Network at your own level.
2.     Go to the sessions to pick up on the trends and know what’s going on in TV.
3.    Do not pitch, but use it as an opportunity to understand the personalities of the commissioners.
4.    Check the delegate list and arrange to see people from other companies where you’ve worked.
5.    Don’t feel you have to have a target list – go, listen, enjoy.

Edinburgh is “one big ideas soup” and the perfect way to pick up on emerging TV trends, says betty’s Liz Warner.

“From an indie or development point of view it’s picking up on trends. It’s one big ideas soup – formats are over, documentary’s gone up the agenda, just hearing it in the coffee time chat you really start to realise it’s true,” she explains. “It’s the shifting sands of TV – three years ago format was in, now format’s out… If you’re coming back from maternity you could have gone on maternity when formats were at their real high and presenters were it, and now it’s much more documentary-led, it’s about hiding the format – if there is a format you bury it underneath, and that’s changed in the last year and a half quite dramatically, particularly at certain channels. Picking up all those things are really useful, then that gives you the media intelligence for when you’re interviewing, pitching, talking and coming back in – it just gives you the knowledge – it’s just like being a taxi driver and having the TV knowledge.”

Liz describes a “terrifying” Edinburgh session when she was commissioner for the first ever Big Brother and was on a panel talking about reality TV and what it does to people. The former Channel 4 commissioner was on a panel with Lorraine Heggessey and Oliver James: “It was terrifying because it was one of those panels which was a slight roasting. All the press were there. And rather marvellously they had arranged for some of the ex BB housemates to be in the audience. I was so glad when it was over. I can’t tell you how it went – I just know I survived, so it couldn’t have been that bad because I still had a job the next day.”

This year at Edinburgh betty will be represented by executive producers Vicky Hamburger and Sarah Spencer who are taking part in The Undateables masterclass alongside Liam Humphreys, Channel 4’s Head of Factual Entertainment.

The Undateables, Channel 4.

The hit Channel 4 dating show for people with disabilities has pulled in more than 4 million viewers and is currently in production for a third series. It is described by Liz as “one of the most difficult programmes we’ve made.”

Liz, a mum of three, is sitting on the judging panel for the Channel of the year and has contributed to a session on her greatest TV failure and the lessons she learnt from that. She describes the festival as: “A bit of free brainspace – a thinking space that you don’t have very often when you’re on the treadmill of TV production. All the commissioners and all the controllers are there – so it’s the TV microcosm. The best thing you can get out of it is the current temperature of telly. After the MacTaggart Lecture there’s a big drinks party. It’s daunting but it’s quite exciting – everyone’s there in one giant room. Enjoy that party, and if you see someone familiar say hi – people are open in that sort of environment to chat because it’s a big party – if they’re sitting reading the paper in the lobby of their hotel, leave them to it.”

“I think I was quite nervous the first time I went. I was probably quite excited as well because it’s a relatively short list of people who go. I was working at BBC Manchester running the development team at the time. For me it was more about going to sessions to learn about trends and changes. I had no idea what to expect, I didn’t know what form it took, I didn’t know the geography of it. I’ve learnt over time how to enjoy it.”

“When I went to Edinburgh in development it was to get the landscape of TV, and if you are from an indie there’s a great opportunity to understand the personality of commissioners. You’re never pitching into the ether – you’re pitching to a person. You’re pitching to a personality and their taste. If they hate dogs, they’re going to hate dog ideas… Try to get a take on their personality and see a bit more of them outside the office.Seek out the commissioners and broadcasters that you know indies you work with or you want to target. Watch from a distance, gauge the commissioner’s personality and email them afterwards to try to connect.”

“It’s also a great opportunity to sit in a dark room – it’s a break from the treadmill of production – in our day to day lives in TV your ‘to do’ list is massive, so it’s a really good chance to talk ideas, and hear other people’s ideas because by talking and hearing about other people’s ideas it prompts you to have new ideas of your own. It’s a thinking space that you don’t have very often. It can sometimes make you reflect on what you’re doing and challenge what you’re doing. I find quite often when I go to any of those events that when people say what they didn’t like or what’s not worked you start to think in a different way – it is a bit of free brainspace isn’t it?”

She suggests delegates have a plan in advance of which sessions to go to that are relevant to their work, and a schedule of contacts to meet. “Don’t just turn up and go with the flow. I wouldn’t just turn up and think ‘I’ll just drift from session to session’ because everyone else seems to have mapped out their social life. People have all got appointments, and if you haven’t arranged anything in advance it can be a no man’s land. Even though you’re surrounded by the TV village, everyone else seems to have an agenda or an itinerary or a timetable.”

“Make appointments with your friends. Don’t try to network, let that happen. Commissioners almost always don’t want to be bothered, they definitely don’t want to be pitched to, so one of my absolute rules is do not pitch in a social situation. Never go to a bar with that in mind – commissioners at Edinburgh almost always have their eyes permanently averted or to the ground to try to avoid that. It’s away from the office, and you pitch in an organised pitching session. There’s a protocol and this is not the pitching place.”

“For the Media Parents delegates it’s more about meeting other indies. Indies mix with indies much more freely there. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find out what’s happening in TV, meet up with old friends and make new contacts. Don’t feel you have to have a target list – go, listen, enjoy. It can’t and won’t be a failure – all it can be is a fantastic immersion and a re-introduction.”

One final tip – “Check the weather forecast – it’s usually much colder than you think – you leave London thinking it’s summer, you arrive in Edinburgh – autumn wardrobe – it’s cold and it rains. So layer. And also you’re running from place to place, so don’t wear high shoes. It’s a really lovely city to walk.”

With many thanks to Liz Warner.

meet the media parents GEITF delegates :

Kirsty Smith :

Kirsty Smith is a development producer living in Leeds, looking to return to work in September after a three year break – “hoping to prove you can have babies, leave London and still work in TV”. She is being sponsored by ITV.

Sidra Khan :

Sidra Khan is a PD living in London. She has not worked since Feb 2011 as she had two children born within 18 months of each other. She is being sponsored by Channel 4.

Ali McBride:

Ali McBride is a senior producer in factual  / factual entertainment based in Cheshire. She has taken a year’s maternity leave, and has done 4 weeks work in Leeds during that time. Ali is being sponsored by Endemol.

Harriet Wallace :

Harriet Wallace was a series producer before leaving TV ten years ago to pursue other projects and have two children. Based in Bath, Harriet is hoping to return to TV as a development producer in late 2013. She is being sponsored by the BBC.

by Amy Walker

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