Runaway success

Friday night and the shift had been pretty busy. The landlord bought all his staff a drink after we’d closed and we sat in front of the bar, relaxing and sipping away at what I call the ‘elixir of joy’ (a large Pinot Grigio) that eliminates the foot pain of a seven hour shift.

I started chatting to one of the regulars, who had joined us for our drink. It turned out we both had an interest in comedy. I told him about The Runaways, the group of improv comedians I produce, and the landlord chipped in – “Oh I’m looking to start up a comedy night at the pub actually. Do you want to run it? You can keep your revenue, and if we sell a lot  of drinks on the night, you’ll get a percentage of that too”.

I was over the moon! I thought it would be years before the Runaways, a relatively new group, got our own show, and here it was being served up to us on a silver platter!

After a couple of days of euphoria, the reality sank in. I’ve only been living in London for less than six months, and I’m supposed to be running my own comedy night in an enormous, popular pub. I would need some serious help and advice. So I got in touch with the guy who runs a comedy night at another pub nearby. Although daunted at first by his line-up (Henning Wehn was headlining when I dropped by), he put me at my ease immediately, offered me sound advice, and was incredibly supportive! I even started to have the sneaking thought that I might just be quite good at this comedy producing thing after all…

So wherever January takes my TV career, at least I have a career in producing live comedy that’s going pretty strong. Though that doesn’t pay me much either…yet!

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Runaway success

Twelve Labours of TV

I recently retweeted this from Graduate Fog:

graduate fog.png

Well the obvious answer to their question is YES. But how bad is this situation? Well, given my experience over the past few months, pretty bad. In order to get jobs, you have to have experience. Ideally paid experience. But even the unpaid experience can be very hard to come by. My first work experience placement in TV was with Oxford Digital Media, a company that liaises with Oxford University Press, who publish my mum’s English teaching materials. My work experience coordinator at school fought tooth and nail to stop me from taking the placement: as far as she was concerned, if I was taking Latin and Greek A levels with a view to reading Classics at University, the only suitable placement for me was in a museum.

I then emailed Mentorn Media and Hat Trick Productions for two and three years respectively until they finally agreed to give me two weeks of work experience placements. I met the Head of Sky News and the Head of Lion Television at a networking event organised by my drama teacher, and those contacts led to a day’s placement with Sky and, after four years of tactical emailing, my job with Lion.

But what if I hadn’t had a drama teacher with excellent contacts? What if I hadn’t been able to stay with my grandma on the outskirts of London during these placements? What if I hadn’t been so persistent? Then it would have been almost impossible to get a foot in the TV door.

Even now, unless I work both days (free) and nights (paid) during my work experience placements, I couldn’t possibly fund myself in London. It would only be possible for me to be permanently free for TV work if I were housed and fed by my family, or some other generous soul who would support me free of charge.

But this isn’t the only issue facing those starting out in TV. Many companies recruit through the Talent Manager, a great website where you can create a profile, upload your CV and apply for jobs. There’s the Basic Subscription, which is free, and the Pro Subscription. I signed up for the Basic one, thinking that would still give me a fair chance of applying for jobs, which was all I needed. But take a look at this:

talent manager.png

So basically, unless I pay £70 per year, my job application automatically goes to the bottom of the pile. To put that in perspective, £70 is what I earned in August 2014 for a 10 hour day of manual labour on a building site at the end of the Edinburgh Fringe. During that same Fringe, I was producing a comedy show during the day and working Front of House by night, which involved queue managing and cleaning up a variety of alcoholic and bodily fluids. The money I earned from that paid for the month’s extortionate rent in Edinburgh.

So unless things change, and change soon, diversity will always be a challenge for the TV and film industry. And the changes can be simple: paid internships, or a fairer way of applying for jobs. For as long as breaking into the TV industry remains harder than the Twelve Labours of Heracles, high quality creative talent will continue to be lost to other industries. And wouldn’t people from low income backgrounds who are used to having to budget carefully be very good at managing a decreased production budget? Given how fast-changing our media industry is, and given how many budget cuts are constantly affecting productions, this is something that cannot afford to happen.

Twelve Labours of TV

Lend me Your Ears

The WFTV (Women in Film and TV) newsletter dropped into my inbox. I perused it. I found a very exciting opportunity: a two day workshop to train producers of creative content!! Brilliant – I had been looking for some training courses for a while – maybe this would be it!

I clicked on the link. I read the website. It was for deaf producers only.  Screw you, five fully functioning senses.

Lend me Your Ears

Sod’s Law

Absolutely nothing, zero, zilch, nada, for a month and a half. And then two jobs came along at the same time. Of course, nothing gets past Sod’s Law. Another helping hand from that lovely friend who got me the runner work led to a phone call from MTV, asking me to do some admin work for them! Then a friend who was working as a runner messaged me to let me know that he was getting a mini promotion and his runner job was there for the taking, within half an hour of the phone call from MTV. Given that the first job was for one day per week until the end of December, would be paid at my day rate, would give me a Production Assistant credit – plus it would fit around all the shifts I had already booked myself in for, the decision was really a no brainer. Christmas present budget = sorted. And what’s more, this was more production manager type work: great training for the producer I want to be.

Not bad for a ten minute phone call! But then an email from the contact at MTV came in saying that she would have to delay my coming in due to her workload. Then another one saying that her line manager would not give her the go ahead to get me in before Christmas. So much for that Christmas present budget. Still, I was grateful for her reassurance that she definitely did want to employ me, just probably in January. It made me look forward to 2016 even more…

Sod’s Law

Salt in the Wound

Thanks. I understand that you have run out of budget and won’t be hiring a researcher at all, despite my carefully written application, but did you really have to send the same rejection email six times? How many Sun Salutations and Child Poses does it take to get over that level of rubbing it in?

That’s when I turned back to comedy. If my email server is having a laugh at my expense, I might as well take the joke and redouble my efforts to promote the upcoming gig for the improvised comedy troupe I produce, The Runaways. They make me belly laugh even before they get on stage! https://www.facebook.com/The-Runaways-Improv-1437938469848926/?fref=ts

Salt in the Wound

Stop: Yoga Time

Thanks to the scars on my groin from my operation, my usual sport, running, was off the menu for a little while. So I decided to sign up to a yoga website for a month and try that – to stay fit, but gently. And when I wasn’t doing yoga, I did sitty-downy jobs, like meeting a talent manager at the BBC, who overhauled my CV, then updating my CV, sending off said updated CV to all the production companies on my contacts database…and then some more…and then googling a few more and sending it to them too…

But the yoga was really, really helpful. I can’t recommend it more! As a cardio bunny, I wasn’t convinced that I would ‘Get Fit and Healthy in 10 Days’, as the yoga programme promised, by just doing half an hour every day. I was wrong. Because yoga uses your own bodyweight and carefully balanced workouts, your body is toned to its own level, and you stretch and build your muscles without even realising you are! I don’t think I’ll be going on yoga retreat weekends quite yet, but I did get myself a proper mat on Black Friday.

So I was getting fit and flexible, in both my body and my availability for further work in TV. Maybe I’ll check my emails again…

Stop: Yoga Time

Take Another Little Piece of my Heart

Just before I moved to London for my first job in TV with Lion after Finals, I had been diagnosed with a heart condition, for which I would need an operation. The date for the operation arrived in November!

I had been told that my condition was relatively mild, but would have to be dealt with, or I risked a highly increased chance of having heart attacks throughout my life. This seemed like a waste, especially now that my CV had several more credits to it! I had two options: to be on beta blockers for the rest of my life, which would keep me safe from the risk of further heart attacks, but would mean I could never run in the same way again. The second option was a catheter ablation, where they would simply cauterise the extra electrical signal in my heart that was causing all the palpitations. Keen to fix the problem, and keen to get back into training, I had opted for the ablation. But that meant I would be out of action for a couple of weeks after surgery, and unable to work my pub jobs to earn my rent money. The pressure to find another TV job that paid a bit better was back on.

Take Another Little Piece of my Heart