In the plush seating of the rather elegant Princess Anne theatre at BAFTA Piccadilly I had an epiphany, or rather I reworked something that has been important to me for a few years now; I want to be part of an open door policy in TV.
I was attending one of this years’ Masterclass Sessions, namely the Directors talk, which featured both documentary and drama directors, when during the questions a young black woman asked the only female and person of colour on the panel a pertinent question; “As a woman do you feel you have to prove yourself to get your first gig?”
Her rather fantastic response was that having boobs doesn’t affect her as a director; she makes films. Full stop.
She then went on to explain entry to the world of filmmaking saying that there was a time whilst at film school that she became aware of a party happening on the other side of a door. She said that some people didn’t realise there was a door, some realised they might have to fashion their own key in order to open the door, but generally the door was closed. This particular director was given a chance - managed to get her foot in the door - through a film school piece that was picked up by Channel 4’s Coming Up series.
This got me thinking about my own analogy for helping people into the TV industry, something very important to me. I have been using the elevator simile for a while, often attributed to the now disgraced actor Kevin Spacey; “If you’re lucky enough to do well it’s your responsibility to spend the elevator back down.” [In researching this I have found a different wording attributed to Edith Piaf.]
But a far nicer (and possibly more original) way of thinking about it is with a door.
People always talk about needing to ‘get their foot in the door’. This implies that there is someone on the other side constantly trying to keep that door closed. In fact you could quite easily talk about the old boy networks and nepotism being like bouncers on the door of club telly, only allowing you in if your name is on the list or they like the look of you. I want to be one of the people that is opening that door from inside the party.
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed helping others with that which I have a passion for, mostly film making. At school I was quick to learn the technical skills required to film and edit videos and would help those in both my year and others, when I worked in post houses junior members of staff would often come to me for training and work experience students would be sent my way knowing that I would happily talk to them and explain what I was doing, on more than one occasion I have visited my old school and university to talk to students about how to get into the industry, and since going freelance I’m always trying to connect people to each other in the hopes they work together. With Arts Emergency, a charity aimed at helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds get into the arts, I have managed to take this to a new level by volunteering to mentor a young person interested in a career in TV.
Arts Emergency style themselves as an “alternative Old Boy Network that aims to create privilege for people without privilege“, they are a backlash to the chronic underfunding of the Arts at grassroots levels, and their manifesto ends with three points that chime particularly loudly with me;
Be generous. Now be more generous. Share your privilege.
Do something. Start small, start local, keep going.
Optimism is a weapon and if all else fails, be silly!
I don’t hide that I’ve had a fairly privileged existence and that privilege has helped me get to where I am now. Whilst I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth I certainly was given every opportunity to do what I want in this life, not least by my parents, and so I want to help those who, for whatever reason, don’t get the same chances. Also I’m an optimist who adores silliness!
I think this all stems from the day during our GCSEs that the ‘careers advisor’ (inverted commas used purposely) came to give one on one sessions to discuss with each student our career aspirations. By this time I already knew I wanted to edit, having spent some time previously wanting to work in the music industry as an engineer before realising that as a video editor I could be both creative and use my technical intuitiveness. I told the gentleman that I wanted to work in TV and to my dismay his words were (something along the lines of) “Hmmm, tricky industry to get into. My advice is to work on a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out.”
I will reserve the red mist rage that this line elicits when I normally retell this exchange for another post entirely. Safe to say it is terrible advice and as I have grown despite it I have vowed to be the antithesis of this response to a young person wishing to pursue their dreams.
The director at BAFTA who’s party behind the door analogy had set me thinking said she felt we are now in a situation where the door is just about ajar to women, the result of all the work trying to redress the imbalance of representation on our screens. My hope is that more gatekeepers to the industry (or doormen and women if you will) adopt a more open door policy meaning a greater diversity in the media, because who wants to attend a party where everyone else is just like you?