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Multi skilling; the future?

I got into tv production way back when because I wanted to be creative. I’m pretty sure it was Chris Evans’ antics on The Big Breakfast which planted the seed although for a few years after I harboured some sort of pretence that I was going to become the next big theatre director by ripping people’s tickets at the London Palladium. But when I eventually jumped into tv I had my career plan worked out: 5 years in the ranks, then producing, then running my own show, running an independent production company and eventually running the BBC.

I’ve always been interested in learning new skills (sometimes at the expense of sense, like my ill-fated and somewhat ridiculous attempt to pick up Esperanto), so the frenetic pace of early life at Soccer AM suited me. Whether it was because we were a small team or because Sky Sports always seemed to encourage a ‘sink or swim’ mentality, we were all called upon to do whatever it took to get the show to air on a Saturday. So we’d be calling up fans one minute, bands the next, sitting in on goal edits, chucking in a voiceover, writing a shoddy gag or knocking up a prop for Sheephead’s flea circus. As the years went by and I moved up the ladder I made less flea circuses and spent most of my time doing producery stuff like writing, checking and sitting in the gallery, but my point in all this is that most of us in the team could quite rightly call themselves multi-skilled. Unlike many productions we didn’t have the luxury of specialised archive researchers, scriptwriters or guest bookers; we all had to muck in and get the job done.

When some of us left to start Channelbee, part of the appeal for me was that we’d need to become even more diverse to survive. We’d all directed shoots and sat in on edits but we hadn’t actually used the cameras or pushed the buttons, and we certainly knew nothing about codecs, bitrates and HTML. Two years on and most of us left as half-decent self-shooting, self-editing tv and digital producers with a pretty good grounding in social media. That’s all well and good; it’s clear that with digital convergence and cost-cutting impacting every budget, production staff are going to need more than a basic grasp of technology to survive. The reason I’ve been able to go it alone rather than sitting waiting for the tv jobs to come in is because I’ve thrown myself into the learning experience, and I’m enjoying shooting in particular far more than I ever thought I would. I also believe that from a personal point of view, sitting inbetween ‘traditional’ tv and digital production is going to be useful; I’m already picking up work because of that particular experience.

There is another side to the story, however, and it’s one which worries me in quieter moments. The more production staff become all-singing, all-dancing Jacks of most trades, the less we encourage the genuine craftsmen who made our media industry one of the strongest in the world. If we’re expected to pick up a new skill every six months, what chance do we have to become the very best in just one discipline? And the more multi-skilled content producers there are, the less the rate clients/employers are willing to pay which in turn begins to price genuine experts out of the market. In the last 6 months or so I’ve had at least 3 conversations with specialists in tv/film/photography who learned and mastered their crafts in the 60′s and 70′s and who now can’t either find the work or can’t work for the rates offered. Add to this the fact that equipment needed to produce content is more accessible and affordable than ever (DSLR technology in particular has brought film-making within the pocket of most of us) and the issue becomes even more complex. I agree with the argument that reducing the barriers to production in this way expands the talent pool and therefore ultimately helps the industry, but I just wonder where we’ll be in 20 years’ time if the whole industry is self-taught and multi-skilled.

Perhaps the responsibility lies with broadcasters/studios etc who could do their bit to safeguard the future by offering on the job training, but I’m not holding my breath. The only training I had in 8 years at Sky was Health/Safety and a day on team leading. I pushed for camera and edit training at Channelbee (which, thankfully, was forthcoming) and I’ve since funded some out of my own pocket.

There’s no real answer to this and as you’ll probably gather I’m not quite sure where I stand; I’m just happy to be surfing the wave right now in order to keep my own head above water, but if you’ve got an opinion, especially if you’re involved in the industry, I’d love to hear it.

My still slightly secret new project…

I think I’m able to give a bit more information about why things have been a bit quiet from my end recently but I think I still need to be a bit cagey with information so excuse me if this is a little vague!

In the summer I was approached by a production company to help them put together a pilot for a new football show. Naturally it was an honour to be asked in the first place, but also a great opportunity to do some more ‘proper tv’ work which I’ve missed since we finished doing David Beckham’s Soccer USA back in 2007. I love working in digital and the fact that I get to do all manner of different shoots with PR and brands, but it was always my intention to work across all sections of production, whether made for box or laptop. In fact I’m firmly of the belief that nowadays, where your content is played out is much less vital than the content itself, and also that every tv show should now be produced with one eye very much on its digital appeal, but that’s for a longer article to be posted on here in the future. So anyway, whilst I believe I’m in the right place by working in digital, it certainly doesn’t harm to have another tv credit on my cv and this project was too appealing to turn down.

Over the summer and autumn we put together and eventually recorded a pilot for our new show, it ran well with research groups and after consideration by the broadcaster it has been commissioned! I really don’t want to say who it’s for until the broadcaster announces it themselves, but we’ll be producing a short series to air hopefully in May time. I think I can say it’s a football show, it will be fun, and I certainly think there’s a place for it in the schedule. For me, it’s my first series producer credit which is a personal milestone and I think I’ll also be doing some shooting on it as well which is a bonus.

We are hoping to incorporate user generated clips on the show so although you don’t know much about it, if you have anything funny and football related you want us to consider, do get in touch with me either via the site or on Twitter. Obviously the usual rules apply for this content; it has to be your own work, but we can sort out the details if we like the clips. Best at this stage not to send video files themselves, more a description of what you have or a link so we can see it as we are looking for some quite specific content.

As soon as it has formally been announced I’ll tell you about the finer details of the show. It’s not going to be made for everyone, but hopefully the target audience will love it!

As far as my work is concerned, I should be able to juggle working on this and continuing with my digital/brand work so do get in touch if you need any producing/shooting/editing done!

Slacker

So the idea of starting a blog is to keep it going.  You know, the odd musing here, a great link or video you find there.  Oops.  Must do better and will do better when I’ve got this pilot done.  Yeah I know, I never mentioned a pilot because I haven’t been keeping this going but I can’t really talk about it anyway.  I have been doing other stuff as well and I also went on holiday so…you know how it goes.

I’ll write something vaguely interesting soon, anyway.

Oh, and I did stop watching Seven Days after ep 1.

Seven Days

A few months ago when I was on my Hyper Island course, one of my fellow students told us about a show she had worked on when in development, a show which was apparently being touted as Channel 4′s replacement for Big Brother.  Coincidentally one of our visiting experts then gave us an exercise where we had to brainstorm ideas for the digital side of the same show (his company had pitched for the contract, I seem to remember).  So I’ve had longer than most to mull over the idea, in theory at least, and was particularly interested in last night’s launch, especially as I was led to believe that this could mark a new episode in interactive/social tv.

If you didn’t watch, the premise is that we’re following a series of residents of Notting Hill, docusoap style, with the unique selling point in this case being that it’s happening almost in real time.  In tv, you see, that’s considered groundbreaking because unless you’re live, it tends to take ages to do anything.  Unlike Big Brother, the participants are able to see the reaction to the show, and what’s more we as audience are being encouraged to interact with and help them decide how to lead their lives.

So far, so unoriginal.  It’s Paddington Green with bells and tweets on, but without Todd Carty and the weird wigmaker.  The initial irritant is the location the production team have chosen; Notting Hill.  I can see why they’ve done it (U.S. sales?)…but judging by Twitter reaction it’s a potentially fatal flaw.  We know what the rest of the country feels about London and London-centric media, and I’m sure that most Londoners have the same opinion of cliched Notting Hill-billies.  Play a game with me now; if you didn’t watch the show, guess who they’re featuring….

Blonde sloaney type who calls her mother ‘Mummy’…check

Gay hairdresser…check

Models…check

Property developer (ok he’s entertainingly bizarre; the frozen cat anecdote made last night worth watching)…check

Young black youths who hang out and do pull-ups in the street…check

Now unlike many of those on Twitter last night I’m not going to get involved with slating the participants.  It’s not what I do; what right have I to criticise other people’s personalities?  I just think that the casting is desperately cliched and therefore I’m not sure I want to get involved with their lives on the level Channel 4 expects of me.

So did it work as an hour of tv?  Not really.  I really didn’t learn much, cared even less, and the attempts to make the whole thing up to date were ham-fisted to say the least (radio bulletins, staged chats about the day’s headlines).

Did it work as an hour of interactive tv?  Potentially.  I found interacting with the Twitter feed (#sevendays) more entertaining than the show (the Channel 4 website crashed so can’t comment on that but it doesn’t look a patch on what we came up with at Hyper Island)…but maybe that is the point.  I suggested at one point that perhaps Channel 4 execs might be more interested in tweets than ratings, and certainly as the series progresses and we see the effects that ‘fame’ has on the participants, and potentially a two-way dialogue between them and us, there could be interesting consequences.  I do feel for them if they were following the Twitter feed, however; most people didn’t have the same attitude as me when it came to offering opinions on their personalities.

So will I watch it again?  Yes.  I’m genuinely interested in how the whole thing pans out but more from a professional than personal standpoint.  I do think that tv has to get more interactive and social if aspects of it are to survive, so I do hope that the series is a success in the long run.  But I do fear for a project which gets caned by Brian Belo from Big Brother (no I don’t follow him, I spotted his tweet in the timeline).

If you didn’t watch, here’s the link, although another irritant is that for a supposedly modern, interactive tv show, C4/4OD have uploaded the whole episode onto YouTube but have panicked and disabled embedding.  So here’s the link: Seven Days Ep 1

Soccer AM

Soccer AM logo

I was lucky enough to work on the production team of Soccer AM at Sky Sports from 1999-2007, starting as editorial assistant and eventually co-writing and producing the show for 4 years.  The best of times…but also the toughest of times!

Soccer AM circa 2001