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Working with the media part III – Television

In my third media blog I’d like to talk about working in television…

The effect that television has on our lives is almost immeasurable. Some call it progress, others an invasion, but it’s here to stay.  You only have to look around your own house to realise that most people have more than one, many of them are switched on (even if they are not being watched), and that they get bigger every year.  When I was a child we had three waves (as we called them) and now we have three hundred.

The wonderful thing about TV is the amount of exposure you receive.  I’ve filmed with many media groups, and still have material from five years ago appearing around the world in documentary series.  Please don’t think however that celebrity status and riches are on the doorstep. Reality is very different!

The internet has brought a huge explosion in the way that moving images can be presented.  The video heading this page is a piece shot by Niki Harris and is available on her YouTube page…

Here’s a few tips if you’re asked to appear on TV…

  • Interviews – They can be live or recorded, but I always treat every TV interview as live, as it gives the producer better material to use. Remember to take into account that recorded interviews may be screened at different times of day, so an opening line of “Good Morning” may not always be appropriate. I’ve shot in studios, my home and in the mountains and treat them all the same. I was recently shooting in the Alps for the Weather Channel. It was snowy and cold, but beautifully sunny and I felt wonderful, although the camera crews fingers did get a bit cold..!
  • Voice – Speak clearly and relax. I always talk to the interviewer beforehand (if there’s time) and ask simple questions such as where they want me to look, any points they particularly want to pick up on etc, even the weather. What I’m doing is building a rapport with them, and treating them as friends. This way you will relax into the interview and look much better in the final piece. You may be asked to wear a lapel mic with a belt pack and wire up your back, so don’t be surprised if you get a cold hand somewhere (they will ask you beforehand!)  If the shoot is for a later date, you may get asked to repeat the interviewers questions as their voice will be cut out of the final piece.  It might sound a little strange, but it works very well.
  • Body language – This is vital, as you are working in a visual medium. Fidgeting, hand gestures, the way you sit etc will be extremely noticeable. If you’re on a couch, remember that you’re all in shot, whereas a ‘talking head’ will usually be chest upwards.  Again, relax and look as natural as possible.
  • Dress – On TV everyone will look at what you’re wearing. Dress appropriately for the interview and keep it simple.  If you’re commenting on a business issue, you might be in a suit, if it’s for your company, you could be wearing corporate wear. Please, I beg of you, no cartoon ties or garish shirts.  Conservative dress usually works best and dates the least.  Make up is a norm for TV because of the bright lighting.  Let the make up department take care of it as they know what works best for TV.
  • Become an Expert – when a story breaks, the press look for expert comment.  Being an expert in your field means that you could be suddenly thrown into the media spotlight.  You will need to react immediately as news moves fast.  This has happened to me twice recently.  When climber George Lowe died I was contacted by both the BBC and ITV, giving two interviews in my home within an hour.  It doesn’t sound much in time, but it is exhausting.  I once did an almost continuous nine-hour interview for the  Discovery Channel series ‘I shouldn’t be alive‘ and slept for twelve hours..!  I was also contacted by Channel 4 to comment on a piece regarding fighting on Mt. Everest.  I didn’t feel that I could contribute (as I’ve never climbed there), but I referred them to people who had.  Never say you’re an expert in something unless you are!  TV editors want clean, concise footage that they can use and they will pick out sound bytes for use on their shows.  Experts appear again and again on TV.  Talking of which…

Claire Richmond created findaTVexpert.  She is a TV producer with 15 years of experience developing, producing and editing ground breaking terrestrial, digital and cable TV programmes.  Claire got her big break on The Big Breakfast in 1993 and went on to series produce such programmes as Changing Rooms and Ready Steady Cook.  Claire and I have known each other a couple of years through our TV connections.

Here’s a few tips from Claire…

  • Get Noticed – If you want to be a TV expert, TV producers, researchers, heads of development, etc have to know you exist. Because if they don’t know you exist, you’ll never get a phone call from them!  Watch the video…
  • Write a book and become the authority – Researchers and producers often browse online bookshops to find out who’s written books about the subject/area of expertise that’s relevant to the programme they’re developing.  It’s what I used to do at the end of each series of Changing Rooms when we were looking for new designers to join the team.
  • Understand your market – Find out who’s making shows in/about your area of expertise – and who’s being used to front them. In other words, who are you up against?  Who’s your competition?  And what do you have to offer than makes you stand out from the rest?
  • The back door approach – If you can’t get in through the front door, try the back one.  What I mean is this: if there’s a TV series that ties in with your passions & interests (instead of your expertise), apply to be on it as a contributor.  For example, if you like cooking, get in touch with the Come Dine With Me team. If you’re house proud, try ITV’s May the Best House Win, etc.  Because all these shows give you a platform to say who you are and what you do.  They also give your personality a chance to shine through.  Plus an understanding of how TV programmes are made, contacts within TV production companies and the chance of being clocked by the channel’s commissioning editor. Think of Ben Fogle. He was on BBC’s Castaway as a contributor in 2000 and hasn’t been off our TV screens since.  And the same is true of Alison Hammond.  She was on the third series of Big Brother in 2002 and is now a regular on This Morning.  So if you want to get on TV this year, think of the programmes you’d be good on and google them. If they’re looking for contributors there will usually be something on the website.
  • The make or break phone call – When production companies are on the hunt for experts – for last minute studio interviews or ongoing development projects – they’ll put together a list of potential experts and start making calls. How you come across in that phone call will determine whether or not you go through to the next ‘phase’.  Think of it as your first interview. It’s as simple as that. They’ve clearly read your details somewhere (on findaTVexpert, on your website, on google, etc) and it’s now down to your personality.  So as soon as you know that it’s a TV production company on the end of the line, lose your formal, ‘telephone’ voice. Put a smile in your voice and answer the questions as succinctly, passionately and enthusiastically as you can.  And if they’ve caught you at a really bad time, let them know in the nicest way possible. Then take a phone number and agree when to call them back. That phone call could get you on TV.

A big thanks to Claire for her help.  She has a website full of useful information, tips and videos for the world of television, and has helped many experts and TV companies find each other. (including me!)

My next blog will be about working in radio…

A little post script about television.  If you become an expert and get noticed you will get noticed.  The Weather Channel filming I mentioned earlier has come to fruition, and “Freaks of Nature” will go live, worldwide later in November..!


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