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Documentary Producer/Director: Inspire Me

By UCL Careers, on 10 March 2015

As part of our #UCLInspireMe series, Matt Pelly, Documentary Producer/Director talks to us about how he got started in the Documentary Production  sector.

I’m a documentary producer/director for BBC and Channel Four, making things like 999: What’s Your Emergency and Routemasters. I always wanted to work in TV/Film, and made lots of rubbish films as a kid with my brothers. I studied Drama & French and university and got my first job as a runner on Bargain Hunt at the BBC a year after leaving University.

How do I get in to a role like this?

There are two ways in. One is to make your own films until someone realises how brilliant you are, but they are difficult to fund, it can take years, and you’ll need to get lucky or have rich parents.

The other, and more common way, is to start at the bottom as a runner making tea. As they say, the cream will rise, and it generally does. Apply to everyone and anyone, but more importantly meet people, get work experience and keep going til someone gives you a job.

You need to have passion to make films/tv programmes professionally. Its hard work and long hours, and you won’t survive if you don’t really care about it. Don’t do it for the glamour. It is fun but it takes a toll on your social life, and there’s more than a few single 30 & 40-somethings out there in TV world. Make student films, and learn how to make them better. Make it your business to know the sector, and meet people making the kinds of films you love. Keep moving and keep learning. Don’t be too proud to work hard and make the tea. Be nice to people, have a ready smile, and show passion and interest. People will remember you and help you if you’re good to have around.

What are the pros/cons of your role?

Best things are I get to be self-employed, be creative, work with creative people, musicians and sometimes actors, meet/interview famous people, and travel the world. But that’s all gloss on the whole; the best thing is I get to make films which i love.

Getting in is hard, but it’s hard all the way if you don’t want to be pigeonholed, so you have to be focussed on what you want to do. It’s hard and not for everyone, but it beats the 9-5 in my book.

And one thing I read in a magazine once: the hardest thing is knowing what you want, the easy thing is doing it.

Good luck and enjoy.

Visit Careers Tagged to find out more information about Documentary careers


Interested in Film and TV Production? A Producer shares her story…

By UCL Careers, on 3 December 2014

This post originally appeared on the Develop your Career blog

Kirsty Hemming, Producer at Swift Films shares some insights into her career so far…

How did you get your job?

I’ve wanted to be a television journalist since I was at school, so I got as much work experience as I could during the holidays. I did an undergraduate degree in Politics during which I ran the university TV station. Following this, I did an MA in Broadcast Journalism and got my first job as an Investigative Journalist at ITV. This was a bit of a baptism of fire, because my first assignment was working undercover as a cleaner in a hospital. I really enjoyed the experience and was given a huge amount of responsibility at ITV; I was very lucky in this respect.

I went on to specialise in investigative current affairs, working in places such as hospitals and nursing homes to investigate their care practices, or in other environments such as an abattoir to look into meat hygiene. For a couple of years, I moved into more fast-turnaround daily news production, working as an onscreen reporter for ITV and a producer for the daily news bulletins. The BBC set up a new special investigations unit in 2008, so I moved there and started producing half-hour documentaries for them.

I then got a job as a self-shooting Producer/Director, which meant researching, filming, producing and directing both short current affairs films and longer observational documentaries. At the end of 2013, I decided that I’d like to try working for an independent production company – something I’d never done before – so joined Swift Films as a Producer.

How did you decide what you wanted to do?

I’m really lucky in that I have pretty much always known what I wanted to do as a career. When I was about 15 I had the opportunity to meet Kate Adie and she was such an inspirational woman that the encounter really sealed the deal for me.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

My Politics degree gave me a really good grounding in current affairs, but my MA in Broadcast Journalism has been invaluable. We studied media law which gave me knowledge which is absolutely vital when producing news and current affairs films.

I also learned basic camera and editing skills, which I have had to build on throughout my career. Latterly, I have had to self-shoot all of my own material; certainly at Swift Films everybody in the team self-shoots and edits to a really high standard. I think this is becoming very normal within the broadcast industry.

What are your main work activities?

The company I work for focusses both on broadcast documentaries and also corporate films, so I split my time between the two. It has been a brilliant opportunity to develop my skills in marketing to produce online films for big organisations.

My work is incredibly varied; it can be as diverse as investigating the black market in kidneys for transplantation, to spending the day with an international law firm to develop a big recruitment campaign.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Technology seems to move a lot faster in the independent production world, so I really have to be on the ball with the new equipment. The company I work for has just moved into 4k production, which is 4 times the quality of High Definition!

I really love learning to use the new camera and editing equipment, especially when I can see the quality of my work improving. When I was training to be a journalist a decade ago, I could never have imagined the extent to which technological advancements would impact on my job.

Career highlights/best moments?

My most rewarding experience was to produce and direct a special documentary, which exposed how the hospital bug Clostridium difficile had spread much further and infected far more patients than had ever been publicly reported in Wales. Involving secret filming whilst working as a hospital cleaner, it lead to the Welsh Assembly Government changing its legislation and extending its testing regime for the illness.

It’s good to know that when you find something bad is happening, it doesn’t continue unchallenged once your film has been broadcast. I am also particularly proud of a couple of observational documentaries that I self-shot, produced and directed for the BBC, which highlighted the work of under-represented groups. I feel that giving people a voice is a crucial role of journalists today.

Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?

I’m about to become a mum, so I really hope to be able to combine this really important new role with my work as a journalist and producer. It’s such an exciting time to be a part of Swift Films with new broadcast and corporate projects coming in all the time. I hope to be producing some really ambitious documentaries and award-winning corporate campaigns.

If you are interested in a job in TV and film production then check out the Careers in the Creative Industries facebook page and also twitter for job vacancies, news and more!

– Helen West, Careers Consultant, UCL Careers