The term ‘portfolio’ career has been much in vogue recently – the idea of having several separate or interconnecting work roles.
For many of us this is nothing new and as someone who has always worn several hats – ‘Television Producer’, ‘Print Journalist’, ‘University Visiting Editor/ Associate’, ‘Broadcast Mentor’, ‘Author’ – how to answer when faced with a question about your line of work?
For ease I usually opt for the two things that have dominated, TV production and journalism. Then the inevitable question. ‘You must have worked with some well known people?’ (Or something along those lines).
Yes I have worked with a number of so-called celebrities but it has not been the main focus. Access based TV documentaries and news/current affairs programmes have been my area and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some wonderful, inspirational people along the way.
Usually ordinary people doing extraordinary things and helping to change the world for the better. They may not be celebrities but their life footprints are still huge and important.
What is meant by ‘access’ based programmes? This is just shorthand for more in-depth and often exclusive filming of groups or individuals with a strong story to tell, putting a spotlight on their world, usually for the first time.
So far I have made TV films with hospitals, RSPCA Inspectors, police forensic photographers, charities, lawyers, health campaigners and social workers to name just a few. All have involved close collaboration with organisations and individuals to put their stories centre stage.
Crucially, most of these have been in prime national TV slots – despite starting out as a specialist social affairs journalist, getting those stories out to a larger audience has always been important.
These types of TV projects involve a huge amount of trust on both sides and a good deal of negotiation before filming even begins, so not for the faint hearted. Having just spent some time revisiting a number of programmes for a current project, here are just a few things learned along the way:
Setting up these bespoke filming projects takes patience, tenacity, diplomacy and resilience. All good life lessons.
Trust has to be earned and honesty is the key here. Appearing in the TV spotlight is still a huge deal for most people and there can be understandable concerns which shouldn’t be understimated.
Agreeing a good clear filming protocol from the start is essential. This is the template for how you will work together, the key lines of communication, a time line for filming and post production with enough ‘wriggle room’ for when things don’t go to plan. Fail to prepare here – well you know the rest.
Using the same core production team throughout does help. This becomes even more important where the filming is done over a longer period of time and the issues covered involve high levels of sensitivity.
Sometimes wider communities are involved. Making a documentary on the 1974 Birmingham Pub Bombings, when 21 people lost their lives with many more injured, meant gaining the trust of the city’s Irish community, survivors, families whose lives were changed forever and the impact of the ensuing miscarriage of justice. Coming from the city and having a working class Irish heritage helped to open doors here.
Make the effort to keep in touch after filming – small thank you gestures go a long way and there may be follow up stories to tell. To this day I’m still in contact with some of the people who have featured in programmes. They know who they are!
Finally a few wise words from the talented photographer/multi media producer and former Central TV colleague, Pogus Caesar, who has had filming access to some incredible people and events
‘While working in television, the thing that guided me was to assemble a great production team bringing valuable assets. Good quality research is important as you need to unearth new information relating to your subject. Finally don’t give promises you cannot fulfill – as the producer/director everything falls at your feet’.