Meet the Freelancers – a personal view

Follow JordanI did wonder why LSM graduate Jordan Livermore left his first job in 3D film, to launch himself as a runner. I‘m beginning to understand now, having gone along to “Meet the Freelancers”, an event suggested and organised by Jordan, hosted by the LSM.

Jordan’s idea was to pass on the wisdom and experiences of fellow freelancers Nick Cramp, James Gurden, Jude Winstanley and Andy Devonshire, as well as to give his own take on the business. Together they did just that. Jordan started with this:

Some nods of agreement and some embarrassment at Charlie Brooker’s take on getting into TV with a media degree. (Pity Charlie didn’t understand the difference between media studies and media production, but never mind  – it was a great opening gambit.)  It rang bells for me. You know – not being able to plan your life more than a day or two ahead, unsocial hours of work, having your ideas ignored or rubbished, exhaustion, long periods away from home – that kind of thing.  Funny, reminds me of my previous life in the BBC……………….. as a full time employee.

As an old lag I can’t help compare all this with my situation when I came back to Britain from New Zealand as a TV director in 1973. Then TV programmes were almost all made by broadcasters, but the subsequent abolition of the BBC / ITV duopoly opened up programme making to independent production companies, competing for commissions from broadcasters such as Channel 4.

As Jude Winstanley (creator of the Unit List) explained so pithily, broadcasters can afford full time employees, but independents can’t, so they hire and fire on a project-by-project basis. Hence the need for freelancers. This arrangement does have some advantages for both the companies and creative types – programme makers can pick and choose who they work with and freelancers can be equally picky about who they work for. The favoured route to the top is to start as a runner and work your way up, whether or not you are a graduate.

The range of experience represented by Jordan and co reflects the complexity of today’s independent TV production sector. As each guest outlined their career paths, I lost count of series, companies and channels I was barely aware of, I confess. Endemol OK, but Love productions? Gallowgate? Dragonfly? Optomen?  It seems an essential preparation for freelance TV work is sofa-based research into end credits (even if they are so annoyingly squeezed, Charlie.)

The guest biogs were varied and fascinating, but what really interested me was the recurrence of common themes, good old-fashioned idealism and the sheer love of the job. I was surprised and delighted to learn that the industry is still full of NICE PEOPLE, ready to share their ideas and experiences and pass on wisdom. I’m glad to hear this; I remember this being generally true (with some notable exceptions!) when I started out, but  I had assumed that things must have changed in today’s allegedly more competitive environment; it seems I was wrong. It’s good to know this upside of working in TV trumps the Brooker downside. A passion for TV production seems not only to have survived the revolution but possibly to have been strengthened by it. To summarise Andy Devonshire – in the end it’s all about people.

Come to think of it, if it were otherwise, how would this event have been possible? Advice offered or implied by professionals who really know and care – and it came for free. Be nice, train yourself, do work experience,  network, eradicate ”no”, don’t be afraid to ask, have ideas, take risks, admit and learn from your mistakes, think on your feet, be a team player, think visual storytelling.

Totally convincing coming from professionals sharing their experience with us.  Jordan and friends – we are in your debt.

Roll the credits:

Jordan Livermore, freelance researcher

Nick Cramp, Assistant Producer, Deal or No Deal and Pointless

James Gurden, Producer / Director, Don’t Tell The Bride and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here

Andy Devonshire, Series Director, The Apprentice and Four Rooms

Jude Winstanley, production manager and creator of the Unit List

Fade to black

1 thought on “Meet the Freelancers – a personal view

  1. Thanks Peter. This is fantastic – I’ve just emailed all our students urging them to read this. Merry Christmas!

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