The very able and talented Athena Witter concludes her guide to the working life and times of a Digital Producer.
You can find her previous posts here: http://wanttoworkintelevision/category/how-to-get-into-television/jobs-in-television/
Is there anything that other people tend to misunderstand about what you do? Do you think TV producers understand the value of the web content related to their shows?
I’ve been working in the digital industry for over 10 years now. Too often when people think of new media or digital the first impression that pops into their mind is that we are geeks and nerds with a severe lack of Vitamin D. I’ve often been asked why I work in digital and not TV production, or get the comment, ‘You don’t look like someone that’s techie’ (often with a puzzled look on their faces)! The thing is I don’t consider myself technical, nor do I differentiate between on-air and online – they’re pretty much the same thing in modern terms. People’s consumption of television and the mass media has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, with 94% of people on the internet accessing it from home and more than 64% of that via broadband meaning a lot of people are consuming our products or brands online. No longer is our audience just sitting on their sofa watching TV passively, in fact they often do both at the same time. I digress…
…My normal reaction is to smile and nod and secretly smirk as digital is no longer about the unattainable or techno geek. It’s all around us, it’s in our everyday life – mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter, digital TV, 3D Movies, instant chat services like, Skype. Over time it’s crept into our everyday lives and whether we like it or not it’s here to stay.
It’s always a challenge working with a new television production team and producers; often they’ve never had to work on a format that requires interactivity or digital delivery. The key is not to blind them with science. Production is production – regardless of whether it to be broadcast on TV or made for the web it has the same journey and end result – to engage its audience. We just have to be open-minded about new ways of merging the two fields and working together.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding part of my work is to see the audience participation and being able to change the perception of digital, to demonstrate the value and the importance of it to the either the programme or brand. And the fact that what I do, can be seen on a global scale.
What has been the highlight of your working life?
The most amazing experience of my working career (although there has been a many) was working as a ETV Producer, (enhanced television – basically when you press your red button and you get extra content, either video or editorial, news or information). I was producing enhanced content for 2004 Battlestar Galactica, re-imagining of the 1978 television series. I had the opportunity to go overseas to Vancouver, Canada, to film at the studios. (The story of Battlestar Galactica is set in a distant solar system, where civilizations of humans live on a series of planets known as the Twelve Colonies. In the past, the Colonies had been at war with a cybernetic race known as the Cylons. OK geek bit over. You can find out more about it here: – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0407362/)
I went out with the promo team after selling in an interactive concept to the studios/creators. The plan was to create an exploration of how they created the CGI and the battleships. The project was an insight into the cast, crew and concept of the new series delving into the things you never normally see on the main show, all available by the touch of a button on your remote control. At key opportunities during the televised show you could press the red button to find out more information; once there you could then explore key points in the video. For example how they created the flying battle ship, or how the cylons were create in CGI. I was given the opportunity to interview the writers and director, cast and crew and work with a team. I actually got to direct with the main filming crew of the show. They were so welcoming that it made the best and most memorable experience of my career. Not to mention on our day off from filming I got the chance to go whale watching. But that’s another story…
And your most memorable moment?
So many funny moments and some I really can’t share for the fear of embarrassing some of my very close friends in the industry. But strangest moment was when I first came down to London. I was doing a late shift one evening. I popped outside for some fresh air and all of a sudden a huge towering figure stood beside me. I looked up to see Russell Brand! He made some comment about the hat I was wearing then said, ‘hey like your hat – can I have your number?’ (errrm great chat up line). Clearly this was before he was famous and married off to Katy Perry. Needless to say I never gave it to him. He was actually at a studio sneaking in to use the recording facilities for his show reel. -Who would have thought he would be so famous as he is today – maybe I should have given him my number after all, ha!
If someone wanted to get your job, what qualifications or skills would they need?
If you want to pursue a career in new media I would highly recommend a vocation in digital media either a course or degree, or gain creditable work experience. This of course isn’t the only route but it does help you gain the foundations you need. Most knowledge gained is by experience, but you should also consider learning, html, XML, a software like Dreamweaver, or another programing language, if the direction you wish to take is more of the developer route.
For the creatives amongst us, you must have excellent written skills, maybe learn a creative software package such as flash, Photoshop, illustrator. Video editing skills is also an advantage so learn something like Final Cut Pro.
All producers who chose to project manage should have experience with most of the above. There are also good production/project management courses which I would also recommend taking. You can’t be an expert in everything so choose where your strength lies – in creative, build or management.
The most important thing is to keep up-to-date with new media developments – this will put you one step ahead of the rest. – It’s fast paced so be prepared to be kept on your toes!
How do you generally find work in the freelance market?
I’ve actually only been freelancing for the past 18 months. In digital you are more likely to have a permanent role than your fellow TV production colleagues. Going freelance was a shock to my system, but luckily because I built up a reputation my freelance gigs have been mainly on recommendations. It’s hard but the trick is to never be horrible on the way up because it’s a long way down and people remember you – TV is such a small world.
Don’t ever be disheartened. The saying; ‘It’s not always what you know it’s who you know’ isn’t always true. That wasn’t the case for me. I moved down from the north with 100 quid in my back pocket. Hard work and persistence is what will get you there in the end. Work hard and you will achieve your goals on your own merit.
A huge thanks to Athena for her comprehensive account of her role as a Digital Producer.