The night before Edinburgh TV Festival I found out someone in my family had been evicted from supported accommodation and was sleeping on the street, writes PD Laura Martin-Robinson. They’ve struggled with mental illness for years and it’s happened before – but it’s still terrifying and heartbreaking every time. So on Wednesday at 5am when I whispered goodbye to my sleeping kids and got the plane to Edinburgh for Media Parents Back to Work Scheme, facing the entire TV industry for the first time since I became a mum was the last thing I wanted to do.
I arrived at the venue and began with a Media Parents networking session with Amy Walker. As I introduced myself I started crying. I blamed it on crappy mascara. As soon as we finished, Amy sent encouraging messages, and we had been introduced over email to useful delegates so we set about meeting people and engaging with the TV Festival Sessions.
At The Making of a Mega Doc a clip from ‘For Sama’ was shown (For Sama transmits on Channel 4 on Saturday 26th October). Directed by Waad al-Kateaba, a Syrian woman, bombs are falling around her as she gives birth. Executive producer Nevine Mabro talked about why a war film from the perspective of a woman and mother was ground-breaking.
Next up 1-2-1’s with Donna Taberer, Head of BBC Talent and Clare Sillery, Head of BBC Documentaries organised through the Media Parents Back to Work Scheme. Both were encouraging and had suggestions about next steps. Donna told me about the Screenskills Series producer programme which sounded right up my street.
Dorothy Byrne was someone I didn’t know much about but by the end of her MacTaggart Lecture I’d fallen in love. She was powerful, commanding and hilarious. Taking on diversity, bastard bosses and political leaders refusing to engage with the press she said. “In evil regimes the first thing they do is arrest or kill the journalists…what’s happening here is they are trying to ignore us”.
Day 2 Duty of Care. Jeff Brazier – Jade Goody’s ex-partner – was a great choice for the panel but it was disappointing there were no casting APs talking about the pressure from the top to ‘cast good characters’.
At the evening drinks I chatted to the talent scheme delegates. I was impressed by how much more representative this new generation of TV felt in comparison to when I started out. 29 out of 30 of the Ones to Watch scheme were women.
Day 3 Edinburgh does the Call Centre was surprisingly moving. Sexual harassment, mental health and industry culture was discussed. Fatima Salaria was honest and brave, talking about the toll work had taken and the importance of female networks.
It had been a tough start to the festival but hearing the voice of these senior women in my industry who’d been through their own crises and still making amazing work I felt braver and stronger.
Being a woman, a mother and having other caring responsibilities (as women often do) can take over and stretch women to their limits. And freelance TV culture can be a punishing place to be stretched. We end up losing so many of these female voices, especially at the top.
After the festival Dorothy Byrne tweeted about the messages thanking her for speaking up about women’s issues. I was one of them, Media Parents another. While I know there’s still a long way to go before our industry becomes more equal – I felt like the conversations in Edinburgh were an empowering start.
Laura is kindly being mentored by BBC Commissioning Editor for Documentaries, Emma Loach. Follow her progress here. Huge thanks to Hat Trick who supported Laura’s trip to Edinburgh on the Media Parents Back to Work Scheme this year, and for the support from the TV Foundation, which runs The Edinburgh TV Festival.