Life as a TV Researcher

Alumnus Pete Twibill graduated from the MA in 2010, when it was still known as ‘History, Film and Television’. In the past four years he’s worked as a researcher on numerous broadcast television programmes, predominantly on Birmingham-based productions but also with stints in London and Leicester. In this blog he shares his experiences of life in telly…and yes, he really has pressure washed an elephant! Pete Twibill blog

I did my MA work experience at North One TV working on The Gadget Show (Channel 5). After finishing that I was offered a 3 month contract with North One as a Researcher. All in all I was at North One TV for around 14 months.

Since leaving North One I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a number of prime time shows including three series of Superscrimpers (Remarkable TV, Channel 4), Snog Marry Avoid (Remarkable TV, BBC3), Junior Paramedics (BBC North, BBC3) and The House that £100k Built (Remarkable TV, BBC2).

It’s pretty difficult to describe what my job role is as it varies so much. In essence, I do whatever needs to be done to make TV programmes. I’ve had to dip my toe into a number production processes; casting, shooting, editing, writing biographies, fact checking, setting up shoots, the list goes on (with a lot more banal examples!). I think an important aspect of my job is being able to adapt, as every project is different. For instance, my last job saw me on the road attending medical emergencies like seizures, car accidents and cardiac arrests. The job before that was an office based role on a history documentary and next month I might be pressure washing African elephants (again!!!).

For me, TV often feels like a very bi-polar career, it comes with extreme highs and lows, it’s very rarely mundane. There are often times, exhausted, dishevelled and broken, when I ask “why do I do this?”. But on the plus side, I’ve been witness to some awe inspiring moments, had privileged access to some incredible places and experiences and made some wonderful TV!

I’ve been lucky to get this far into the TV industry, I’m lucky to be able to do what I do and my good luck started on the MA placement!

Sweet as a nut!

Peter Twibill

Rebecca’s Placement Diary: Maverick Television

Between January and August each year, FTV students undertake work placements in the media industry as part of their MA. Here is current student Rebecca Conley’s account of her time at Maverick Television – complete with an entry for Careers Network’s Intern Selfie Competition

Rebecca Making a start: My placement at Maverick Television began as a junior researcher in Development. I began by phoning and emailing people for background material into specific topics to inform the producer’s decision on whether to develop a certain TV programme idea. If an idea was progressed I would then research key statistics and search the Internet for potential hosts, characters or experts. Other tasks included brainstorming new ideas and format points and suggesting titles and taglines based on a treatment. I soon learned that there is no such thing as a “typical working day” in Development.

Game Shows: Six weeks in and I changed to working in Maverick’s Multiplatform department. First task was to work on a proposal for a new game show in development. I was involved in researching statistics and accumulating scores from real contestants in a mock run-through of the game show. Other duties included gathering results from the Embarrassing Bodies My HealthChecker web content and making comparisons e.g. based on age, gender and occupation. I also made recommendations of how to push the health apps, doctor response videos and condition guides in each episode of Live from the Clinic.

Embarrassing Bodies: I was able to gain some experience as a production runner on the live set of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic, Series 4. My duties included making the teas and coffees for the production office and crew and making sure the green room and the studio was tidy and well stocked with supplies. You can quickly gain the enthusiasm of others by offering a nice cuppa and it’s a great networking tool. I was able to have a chat in the green room with Doctor Brad Mckay, the host of Embarrassing Bodies Down Under, about his new show.

(Also, I made a small cameo as Doctor Christian’s back up dancer for a VT in the same episode).

On to London: I spent the final week of my placement in Maverick’s London Office. I was responsible for creating categories of multiple-choice questions for a run-through of a game show. I was on hand at the run-through location to meet and greet the game show contributors and make sure they were all provided with light refreshments. This was an interesting insight into the how a programme is developed before it can be provided with funded development or a successful commission.

It was a great opportunity to be able to work at Maverick Television. So much confidence can be gained in a short time by hands-on tasks and mixing with seasoned professionals. It puts you in a good frame of mind for the next challenge and improves your CV for the applications. I would certainly like to thank all who helped me at Maverick during my placement and hope we can keep in touch.

Rebecca Conley

FTV alumni work on BAFTA-winning programmes

It’s always great to hear what FTV alumni have been up to since leaving the course, so imagine the excitement in our office when we heard that two past students have been working on television programmes that were awarded BAFTAs a few weeks ago! Scott Billing (2012) has been a researcher on Gogglebox while Rosie Pooley (2013) has been casting for Long Lost Family. Here are their accounts of BAFTA night, complete with photos of those iconic bronze masks. Congratulations!

Scott Billing

ScottBillingBAFTAAt the recent BAFTA Television awards Gogglebox, the hit C4 show which I have worked on for the past two series, surprised everyone by winning in the ‘Reality and Constructed Factual’ category. At the time myself, the crew and the contributors were all obviously delighted and shared a sense of combined achievement I have rarely experienced whilst working in TV.

We didn’t get to go to the ceremony, and in fact we were still filming the show the night the ceremony was held (we celebrated in the kitchen of one of Gogglebox‘s now semi-famous families). Since we wrapped on the show I have had time to reflect that not only was it an honour to contribute to a show recognised in such a way, but I also have quite a nice achievement to add to my CV, not to mention a pretty decent profile picture!

Rosie Pooley

Since leaving FTV I’ve been working on various projects at Wall to Wall, a production company in London that makes programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1), The Voice (BBC1) and Drugs, Inc. (National Geographic). After finishing my 3 month placement I worked primarily with the development team on proposed factual series and dramas (which I loved), before I was lucky enough to land a role on the ITV series Long Lost Family, presented by Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell. The series as you might expect finds and reunites long lost relatives that have been separated for years, and in some cases, may have never even met. It has been an amazing experience and I couldn’t have hoped to work on a better programme for my first TV production role.

Currently I’m casting for Long Lost Family Series 4, which due to the nature of the programme can mean you’re often shedding a few tears in the office, but it’s great to get out on a shoot day and see the reunions that really make your job worthwhile. Series 4 will be airing in July so we are all working hard at the moment to make sure the series is even better than last year by finding great stories and helping some lovely people.RosiePooleyBAFTA

Plus on May 18th, Long Lost Family won the BAFTA for ‘Features’ and although I did not work on the previous series I was lucky enough to celebrate with the wonderful team at the Grosvenor House Hotel – we even managed to work our way in to the after party where we partied until the wee hours of the morning. It was firstly great to get the news that we had won, and even better when we saw some members of our team go up to collect the award whilst Nicky and Davina made their acceptance speeches. We then of course spent the rest of the night unashamedly taking a million and one pictures with the BAFTA heads and various celebs that were still partying away…

Screening Events and Flatpack Festival

On Tuesday 18 March we will be holding our second documentary screening event, showcasing work by recent alumni of the MA. This is once again part of the University’s Arts & Science Festival and tying in with 2014′s theme of Life and Death, we will be finishing the evening with My Way, an intriguing look at the UK funeral industry. Admission for this event is free but booking is advised, so please drop me an email if you’d like to reserve a seat (j.j.saunders@bham.ac.uk) ArtsandScience2014

The department of American and Canadian studies is running another screening event on Thursday 20 March, ‘Life and Death’ and the Social Action Film. This promises to be another fascinating evening, including short films and a panel discussion.

To add to this wealth of cinematic treats, Flatpack Film Festival is returning to Birmingham at the end of March and there’s a preview taster screening right here on campus next Thursday. The full programme of events is on the Flatpack website.

Popcorn, anyone?

Merry Christmas from FTV!

Christmas TreeAfter an exceptionally busy few months for FTV, the festive season is now upon us! We’ve had a great term welcoming our new cohort of students to the MA and it was great to see some familiar faces at last week’s graduation.

A very Merry Christmas to all students (past, present and future!), placement hosts, guest speakers and staff at the University. 

One Year On From FTV

In this guest blog, Scott Billing talks about what he’s been working on in the year since he finished his MA, offering some words of wisdom along the way…

Scott for blogAfter completing the placement module of the FTV course at Maverick Television in Birmingham I was asked to do a further four weeks work, which was mainly sourcing images for the Film4 website at the Maverick office in London. This meant slightly extending the deadline for my 30 minute documentary, and also some quite long hours of vast excel spreadsheet work. At the time I was delighted, as we all know that paid work is extremely difficult to come by.  

I suppose I made a fairly good impression as a few weeks later, in fact the day after completing the FTV course, I was asked to interview for a Junior Researcher position at Maverick London. I was offered the job and since then I have been working as a part of the award-winning multiplatform department, where we are producing three original content YouTube channels*. 

Due to having a relatively small team my role has been extremely diverse and I have been lucky enough to not only research, but to also occasionally shoot and edit some of our content. My day-to-day duties include maintaining camera kit, data wrangling, moving set and props to locations, lighting, research and the odd bit of casting (you’ll be glad to know these are things that can evidently be picked up along the way). My contract finishes this September and I am somehow both anxious and excited about my next challenge. Until then I am trying to absorb as much knowledge and make as many friends and contacts as possible.  

In my limited experience I have this advice to share. If you have an opportunity in TV, Film or the media then seize it with both hands. Always ask senior members of the team what you can be doing, be enthusiastic, never exhale heavily (or show any other signs of displeasure) if you are asked to do something tedious or unpleasant, be punctual, be organised and make lots of tea (SERIOUSLY, this is not a joke, even if you don’t drink tea. It’s the best way to meet people in the kitchen and it impresses those you work with). That’s it.  

*If you’d like to check out the YouTube channels they are called ‘Daily Mix TV’ and ‘Bodytalk Daily’. I have also done some work for ‘The You Generation’ which is the new talent search channel produced by Maverick in partnership with Syco, Simon Cowell’s production company.

Scott Billing

Danielle’s Placement at Tinker Taylor

One of the companies we have been delighted to establish a placement link with this year is Tinker Taylor. Part-time student Danielle Breach has spent two months working in their offices and has written the following blog about her experiences:

As part of the MA I am currently studying at the University Of Birmingham, I am required to undertake a work placement with an industry-related company for a minimum of eight weeks. The idea is to learn first-hand how working within the film and television industry really is, as well as gaining experience that’ll become invaluable when applying for work once graduated. Students are sent to a variety of companies of varying sizes up and down the country, taking on a range of roles. Whilst the benefits of undertaking a placement are immeasurable, the majority of the class have only really worked at a personal level beforehand, and the idea of working alongside professionals can be quite daunting! Nobody is really sure what to expect before they start, or the kind of tasks they’ll be asked to undertake. 

Fazeley

Fazeley Studios in Digbeth

Initially, Sam invited me to spend four weeks at her company, Tinker Taylor, to help out with some editing. For me, this seemed like such a great opportunity, because not only would I be gaining insight into how a professional company actually works, but I could also learn practical skills that would help me when editing my own university projects. I spent a few hours watching the shoot of the project I would be helping to edit, which was a completely new experience for me. Up until then, I had only been on shoots with classmates, so it was strange to see the difference in pace and professionalism. The project seemed perfectly fitting too, as it was a range of instructional modules for a local social media company – and social media is something that my course focuses on a lot. With such a pertinent project, I was excited to get started and see what I could gain from the whole experience. The following week I headed down to Fazeley Studios, unsure of what to expect and ready to start my four weeks at Tinker Taylor. 

After being shown to my desk and introduced to everyone, I was working on the project straight away. There was a lot to learn as I was doing things I had never done before, and it felt so strange being in a professional environment after a year of being in the uni editing suite. It was also a shock to experience a proper working day – after five years of being a student, it was a big salutation to the real world! As well as learning practically, I got to observe what goes on behind the scenes in such a company, which is obviously something you don’t really get to experience beforehand. The level of planning and organisation was on an entirely different scale, and it was interesting to see just how many elements change when filmmaking is at a business level. It was also a different kind of pressure knowing that the work has to meet the demands of a fee-paying client, rather than a lecturer!

Helping to edit the JC Social Media project taught me so much about the editing process as a whole. I used software that was completely new to me, picking up little tricks and skills that I know I can utilise in the future. Overall, the whole experience has been great! Whilst initially the idea of a placement can seem scary, the amount you learn about the industry in such a short period makes it one of the most beneficial and interesting aspects of the course. I am just so grateful to Sam for allowing me such an insight, allowing me to learn from some amazing people and to work on such an interesting project!

Danielle Breach

Read the original blog here: http://tinkertaylor.tv/2013/06/placement-blog-2/