Interview with TV Producer Gemma Crawley

This is the first in a series of interviews with TV producers from the advertising industry.  This interview with Gemma Crawley was reproduced from Mediargh.

Gemma Crawley has freelanced extensively in UK television production, starting off as a Runner in 2003 and working her way up through roles as a Researcher, Assistant Producer and then Producer. Gemma has worked for production companies and broadcasters such as the BBC, Love Productions, Open Mike and Tiger Aspect. She left TV for the bright lights of advertising and is currently a Senior Creative with The Outfit, a multimedia production company and advertising agency based in London.

Gemma also runs a Twitter account where she regularly posts information and jobs for freelance TV and media people (@GemmasJobs).

MM: Graduating from University in 2003 with a degree in Business Studies, how did you then go on to first get started in the TV industry? Was it difficult to get your first step onto the ladder?

Gemma: I’m almost a little embarrassed to answer this question because luck dealt me the best hand I’ve ever had in my life. I was always pretty sure that I didn’t want a job in Management Consulting, which was where a lot of my contemporaries ended up, so I applied to the BBC for work experience in Manchester, got an interview and then was offered a 4 week placement from that… and the BBC was the only place I applied. You can see my luck, right? I am entirely grateful and owe my career to whoever’s desk my CV landed on!

MM: Ten years ago you were a Runner working for the BBC. Fast forward to 2013 and you are working as a Senior Creative at an advertising agency. Give us a typical working week from your life in 2013. How does it compare to what you were doing ten years ago?

Gemma: My working week now involves a lot more meetings, internally about creative work we’re doing or with clients, pitching our creative work. When I’m not in meetings I’ll be working up treatments, overseeing voice over records, signing off the grade and online, or on a shoot. We work quite intensely and often on short turnarounds, so in one day I can be doing all of the above. It’s quite a mind scramble to remember what I’m doing most the time, but it keeps me on my toes. So essentially I still run around like a headless chicken and make tea for my boss – some things never change!

MM: Do any of the TV shows or other projects that you’ve worked on during your career stand out as particular favourites?

Gemma: Wow, seriously hard question. There are so many different ways to answer this. In terms of the best fun, one of my first running jobs was with Dom Joly on his BBC [hidden camera] series World Shut Your Mouth. I was included in a lot of the sketches so a typical day would start being tied to train tracks and end with me being dressed up as a cockroach crawling through a restaurant. The day was always finished off in the bar! I learned so much, especially driving around London in the pre-sat nav days, with no knowledge of where I was. I was yelled at a lot for getting lost!

In terms of progression, I worked on the first series of Dragons Den as a Runner, was promoted on the second as a Researcher and then promoted again on the fourth as an AP. If you can find a series you enjoy making with people who you like working with, then always try and progress yourself with help from these people. It’s such a hard thing to leap between grades, but this route is a great way to do it.

In terms of affirmation, I came up with and oversaw the Andrex Washlets ads with Dawn Porter as one of my first big projects within the advertising world. The ads themselves got a lot of people to talk about wiping their bums, sold a lot of Washlets and won us an award so I felt that I had found my purpose… selling moist toilet tissue!

MM: As an experienced freelancer, do you have any tips for individuals who may be considering going freelance? 

Gemma: I started freelance and am now in a permanent job. I can understand that going freelance, whether you’re a graduate or coming from a permanent job, can be mildly terrifying! I think you just need to really network, know who all the people who post jobs online are, follow them all on Twitter, and keep ahead of the game. If you see a job on somewhere like Production Base then be one of the first few to apply, as whoever is reading the CVs is only human and will lose concentration after the fiftieth CV! Be supportive to others when you are working as well. Tell them about any internal jobs at your place and they will repay the favour.

MM: Looking back to a time when you were less experienced as a freelancer, did you do anything back then which you would do differently now? 

Gemma: When I started out, I used to panic that people would think that if I contacted them and asked if they knew of any jobs coming up, they would think I was using our friendship to poach jobs. What a load of bull. Everyone is in the same boat and no one will mind if you contact them about work. Just make sure you don’t only contact them for that purpose.

MM: Lots of people want to work in television. What are some of the key attributes you think new entrants should possess in order to stand out from the crowd?

Gemma: When I worked for Dom Joly he told me that when asked a question as a runner, just always say yes, even if you have no idea what they’re talking about, then go off and find someone who can help you decipher whatever the meaning was and get it done. This has stayed with me. As someone who hires and works with a lot of runners and junior people, you need them to be good at their job by making your life easier, by doing that extra bit of research, or printing that call sheet, or even just getting the coffee. There are lots of people who want to work in TV and the ones who progress are super bright and super fast; you ask for something to be done and you blink and it’s done. Those are the people I keep with me.

MM: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?

Gemma:  When I was a runner, I had to drive a van to a shoot in Belgium first thing in the morning. As I was leaving the multi storey car park at the BBC, I could hear the aerial banging against the roof. Thinking this was odd, I started my descent down the first ramp, and the van promptly wedged itself in the car park as it was too big! I couldn’t get it forward or back. In the end, the BBC News team – who had just finished the night shift – helped me let the air out of the tyres and all sat in it to weigh it down so I could drive the damaged van out of the car park. I thought I would almost definitely get fired and that this would be the end of my fledgling TV career. Terrified, I told my story to the PM, and they promptly exploded… but at the car hire company instead of me. Apparently, they had already been told not to park vans in the car park as they were too big to get back out! So the lesson I learned that day was; even in your darkest days, when you think you’re definitely going to get yelled at, as long as you did all you could, then someone else might get yelled at instead!