How to spend an evening drinking with the producers and commissioners of your favourite TV shows.
Long awaited event ‘Speed Date the Drama Gurus’ set up by the Royal Television Society took place in London yesterday. Two free drinks and an adrenaline-pumped discourse with the top names in British drama. As thrills go, not bad for a tenner.
The best thing about this was that the ‘Gurus’ were not idolized deities we weren’t allowed to approach, high above on a panel and fiercely guarded. But patiently waiting at small tables for two, ready to answer our questions and give their best advice. The only catch – you have just 3 minutes with each Guru to get the know-how you need and make that all important good impression.
So here’s a room filled with commissioners, producers, writers and directors with a collective CV long and impressive enough to make any aspiring young professional damp between the legs. The creative drama heads of Sky, Channel Four, the BBC and multiple Indies were all in attendance. Unfortunately, so were about 30 other gagging drama enthusiasts. In 3 minutes, I was going to have to really pull out all the stops to get these Gurus to remember me.
As a certain Miss P had swanned off to California, I was alone at the event, giving me the kick up the ass needed to make me mingle and do what I’d come to do: network. The N word is still scary, but I find that a smile and simple introduction are all that’s needed to get a conversation going. After all, everyone else was there to network too.
I quickly noticed that people had come armed with CVs, DVDs, portfolios and files of Wikipedia info on each Guru. Immediately I felt unprepared and wanted to slit my wrists. All these people had come ready to fight for a job, and were well armed for the battle ahead. Me, on the other hand, had merrily skipped along with just some business cards and some questions I wanted to ask; still with a year of uni to complete, and two awesome summer jobs in the industry secured, I was one of the few lucky bastards who wasn’t desperate for work.
I realised I would be one of the few people not trying to pitch their pilots, shove CVs in hands and beg for a break. All I wanted was to boost these Gurus’ egos and listen to their sweet advice. So yay, a USP for me! I was going to keep it simple, introduce myself with my name, where I study and where I work, then launch straight into my carefully chosen questions.
It went something like this….
Date Number 1: Huw Kennair-Jones – Commissioning Editor of Drama at Sky.
A: “Hi Huw, I’m A. Student at B and intern at C. Lovely to meet you!”
H: “Nice to meet you!”
A: “So, what kind of drama is Sky hoping to produce in the next three years?”
H: “Sky are looking for open, unique stories, capable of longer runs, with heroes that are flawed. Something that will really get people talking.”
A (thinking it sounds like a little TV show called Dexter…): “Fair to say Sky are trying to move away from Drama traditionally seen on terrestrial shows and mirror the success of US cable channels such as HBO?”
H: “Yeah, sure. We don’t want to make any period dramas.”
H: “The terrestrials do it so well, there’d be no point us trying to compete. Sky want to focus on entertainment, big stories and characters. ”
A: “So glad you’re saying all this! What do you think of –”
BELL RINGS TIME UP – onto the next one I go…
Date Number Two: Sophie Gardiner – Commissioning Editor for Drama at C4
A: “Hi Sophie, nice to meet you. I read that you set up your own company to produce your first drama. Any advice on how to go about that?”
S: “Oooh goodness, very VERY tricky in today’s climate. For me, I bought the rights to a novel and it turned out the BBC wanted to make it into a drama, so I became the producer. I realised after that I was extremely lucky! I wouldn’t advise it now, there are already so many indies out there. What is it you want to do, specifically?”
A: “I want to produce drama, I like coming up with ideas, making them happen…”
S: “Right, well that’s great, if I were you I’d get a job at a big Indie, maybe in the script department, or development. Work your way up and produce at least one good show with them before you branch out and do it on your own.”
A: “Awesome, thanks! Do you mind me asking how you’ve managed to juggle having a family and your career? I know so many women scared but wanting to attempt both!”
S: “Oh (laughs) I think, again, I’ve been very lucky. My husband is very nice to me. It helps that his work is a lot more flexible than mine. I tried looking for jobs that were 4 days/week but there just are none! Sorry I can’t give you a better answer!”
A: “No it’s great to know that it is possible –”
Date Number Three: Peter Bowker – Writer of Eric and Ernie (BBC2) and Monroe (ITV)
A: “Hi Peter, how are you?”
P: “Wonderful, thank you. How may I help?”
A: “I would like to know how much you think about a moral message, and being didactic whilst writing, or do you concentrate solely on character and a good, entertaining story?”
P: “Story first, always. You want to figure out the emotional and thematic arc you want to take your audience on, but I never think, I want to tell people this. If a good message comes through in the end product, great! One good way of getting people to think though, is to create a character you disagree with. You want a pious, goodie character, and you want to counterweight it with an insulting, but – and here’s the key – likable character to make fun of morality. If you’re already taking the piss of your message/morality, it’s a much easier pill for audiences to swallow.”
A: “Any tips on pitching?”
P: “Always try and catch them off guard straight away. I once wrote a story for a series of programs on disability. I went into the pitch and said, ‘This ain’t about disability, it’s about family.’ And we got it made. By going in and telling a producer or commissioner the opposite of what they’re expecting to hear immediately gets their attention.”
BELL RINGS. TIME UP.
And that’s your lot! Some pretty good advice from the Gurus, and a big thanks to the Royal Television Society for such a good event! My only complaint would be that we didn’t get to speak to every guru present, and microphones for the talks at the end would have been good for those at the back (i.e me) who could not hear a thing. Definitely worth checking out on their website, sign up to become a member for free and get invited to more fantastic networking opportunities like this one!
Love ‘A’ xx