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Film & TV

‘Sheer bloody hard work’- Jane Tranter’s Royal Television Society Lecture 2019

As BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning, Tranter oversaw the successes of Spooks, Waking The Dead, and the resurrection of Doctor Who

When I saw that Jane Tranter was doing this year’s RTS Annual Lecture in Cardiff, I knew I had to be there. I booked my place before really thinking about it, and within the hour had also booked my travel and hotel. You see, Jane Tranter is a name that not only makes me sit up and pay attention, but fills me with glee. Her name, for me, is synonymous with the BBC drama Doctor Who, and also with the Cardiff-based production company Bad Wolf, for which I would love to work. During her time at the BBC, Tranter rose through the ranks from secretary to BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning. I would love to follow in her footsteps, and the chance to hear her lecture on television production was too good an opportunity to pass up.

So I headed to Cardiff for the lecture, mingled awkwardly in the corner during the pre-lecture drinks (of which I had not been aware, and felt woefully under-prepared), and sat in a lecture theatre filled with people who work in the industry I so desperately want to be involved in. While indeed daunting, it was also exciting to be sitting alongside industry professionals as Tranter gave her lecture on television production and the importance of making brave decisions in the industry.

One thing that really resonated with me was Tranter explaining that when she started out, she knew nobody in the industry. Her parents were teachers, not in the media, and for her to go into that industry meant being different, or ‘showing off’ as Tranter herself put it. Often, we assume with successful people in the media that it is a family business; that they got into the industry because of a parent or grandparent. It was reassuring to hear that Tranter, like myself, had no prior connections to the industry she became so influential in.

Another thing that stuck with me was Tranter’s discussion on how she and Julie Gardner- another woman I would gladly travel three hours to be in a room with- have worked to build Bad Wolf from the ground up. She made it clear that it was hard work, that they didn’t go through the conventional routes of funding so they wouldn’t be tied down by certain rules or regulations. They chose a difficult route, but it has allowed them to build a company that they run on their terms. She also spoke of how it can all be ‘sheer bloody hard work’, but it is their passion for their work and for Wales that has led to Bad Wolf firmly taking root in Cardiff.

For me, the highlight of the event came after the initial talk. A Q&A session was held, for which I had not prepared and was determined not to speak. But I remember thinking how ridiculous that was, to travel for three hours to meet someone working in the very industry I want to break into, and not at least try to ask a question. So I pushed my nerves aside and decided to ask a question I desperately wanted an answer to.

I can’t remember the exact wording of my question, but I explained to Tranter that I was looking for advice on how to get into the industry. I told her about how my main goal is to work in script writing, but my dilemma is that I’m also interested in things such as directing or producing. The advice I received in return was more than I could have asked for. I was quickly told by Tranter that writing is one of the best things to do in the industry ‘as no one can tell you not to do it’. As anyone who writes knows, often it’s something that people feel is just a hobby. It’s notoriously difficult to make a living out of, hence the association that anyone who is a writer only does it for fun in their spare time. And that can be true. But to hear Tranter give such a positive spin on writing as a career, and to actively urge me to pursue it was huge.

Tranter also urged me to keep writing, in the evening and at weekends, which I already do, but also recommended that I look for a way into the industry as a runner or production assistant. I had previously dismissed production assistant jobs as I had wrongfully thought that everyone started as a runner and then moved up to assistant. So thank you, Jane Tranter, for clearing that one up.

Overall, I found the event not just lived up to my expectations but surpassed them. Tranter’s speech was a real eye-opener for me, helping me to understand the different needs of the television industry and how we need to be looking to improve the industry not just in Wales but as a whole. It also helped confirm to me that my passion does indeed lie in the television industry, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more Royal Television Society events in the future.

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