By Kate Beal 30-09-2014
In recent months we’ve all read a great deal about diversity in television. Industry thinkers have highlighted the lack of a clear career path within television, and they are right.
During the past 10 years there has been a dramatic change in the way we operate as employers. Using a predominately freelance talent pool has affected the traditional routes into the industry and the way we treat young recruits once they’ve landed their first, very precious, job.
I was lucky to work in a large factual programme department for ITV early in my career, where I moved from series to series, working my way up the ladder. My skills were assessed, talents developed, and most importantly I was allowed to make mistakes. No matter how many times I was thrown in at the deep end, I always knew I had the security of being allowed to fail because I had the safety of a relatively stable job and the support of someone who could guide me. My worries were purely focused on making the programme better – not what I was going to do at the end of my contract.
With the rise of the indie sector, the reduction of in-house production and the propensity of in-house units to act like indies, we’ve lost our tried and tested routes into the industry. The freelance culture has been growing and now most people working in production are on short-term contracts. I wonder if we’ve lost our sense of responsibility when it comes to developing young careers and I believe that it’s up to us indies to ensure we give the next generation of programme makers the best start.
Most young people entering the industry these days do so after leaving university, probably with a degree in media, TV or film. Often these are vocational degrees, which provide practical skills alongside academic learning. What they don’t provide is genuine industry practice – with the exception of work experience – and I don’t expect them to. I expect a graduate trained to a certain level and with masses of enthusiasm to learn more.
Then our job, as employers, begins. That’s the hard part, especially when commissions are scarce, budgets are low and reputation is everything. We need the courage to employ graduates and act as the finishing school because graduates are a work in progress. They need to know it’s not the end of the world if they’ve put the wrong postcode on the call sheet and our presenter ends up stuck down a country lane just before we’re due to film the most difficult interview of the series. Every mistake can be corrected.
Mentoring can be time-consuming but it’s our responsibility to help them learn. It’s not an entirely altruistic act either. Television is all about talented people and it’s in our interest to create the home-grown stars of the future. As an indie boss I need to ensure the people with the best ideas and the ability to make them happen stay loyal to me.
I’m not saying I’ve got it right yet; it’s something we need to address as a company and as a sector. It’s not about sending people on expensive training courses, it’s about giving our time and expertise and being there as mentors and guides – allowing people to make mistakes and not letting a culture of fear to develop over short-term contracts.
We have recently made a series of documentaries for London Live. Part of the brief was to nurture new talent and give opportunities to up-and-coming factual programme makers. The experienced members of our team genuinely enjoyed mentoring the more inexperienced members and we produced a great series. It demonstrated that by creating a partnership between the indie and the broadcaster in the area of team development we achieved results.
It’s not unusual for a commissioner to get involved when putting a team together – signing-off on the key positions to ensure they have years of industry experience and the right credits on their CV.
However, it is very rare for a broadcaster to take a leap of faith on emerging talent with few credits, and who perhaps didn’t have the training route that I or others like me had.
We need to ask ourselves how we’re going to supply the broadcasters with the future talent they want to make hit shows. It’s our responsibility now. Our business depends on it.