Making it in the TV Industry: Watersprite Film Festival 2020

Bec Algie 12 March 2020
Image Credits: Watersprite Film Festival 2020

Amidst the bustling atmosphere of the Watersprite Film Festival, I caught up with some of BBC Three’s key figures to find out how they began their careers in the TV industry.

I first met with Ben Whybrow, Head of Communications for BBC Two, Three and Four. Seated in the greenroom of the Old Divinity School, Ben reminisced about his own personal journey into the TV industry. “Originally, music was where I started”, Ben revealed when I asked if he had always known that he wanted to work in TV. With a music-related career as his goal, he initially completed a music degree before he noticed a job vacancy with the corporate press office of BBC Radio One ‘which was completely different to what [he] had done before’.  It was securing this job which provided him with a pathway into the industry and he admits that when he got into the TV side of things ‘[he] became even more enamoured with it’.

“We’re in the golden age of TV at the minute,” Ben told me, highlighting that it is even more exciting to be involved in the industry now than it was before. Whilst he acknowledged that “a lot of people see it as quite a difficult route to get into”, he believes that passion is the key factor for success. When asked which top tips he would give to people with aspirations of working in TV, Ben’s simple response was that “You have to be passionate about it”. He went on to say that you must be an avid consumer of TV so that you can find out exactly ‘what resonates with you’ – the first step towards landing your dream role. So in summary, be passionate and watch more!

After an insightful chat with Ben, I caught up with Kayode Ewumi, actor and writer of BBC Three’s comedy series ‘Enterprice’ and Michael Patrick, actor and co-writer of BBC Three’s ‘My Left Nut’. Similarly to Ben, neither Kayode nor Michael kick-started their careers with TV work as their goal. Kayode began by recording content which he shared on YouTube whilst Michael trained as an actor after graduating with a Natural Sciences degree from Churchill College, Cambridge.

I asked both of them what advice they would give to prospective screenwriters who haven’t yet made it in the industry. “Just write. Don’t be too precious…YouTube and Instagram – just get it all out there,” Kayode told me. Michael provided similar advice: “Make your own work. It’s very easy to do that now because everyone has decent phones. Even if it’s just for yourself to look at so you can know what works and what doesn’t”.

Just write. Don’t be too precious…YouTube and Instagram – just get it all out there

I was surprised to learn that a stroke of luck through competition entries had helped Michael to start off his career as a screenwriter. Now a three-part comedy series on BBC Three, ‘My Left Nut’, which he co-wrote with Oisín Kearney, started out as a stage play which was performed at the Dublin Fringe in 2017. Michael admitted that “the only reason [he] wrote this play was because [he] had no acting work coming up” and that it was never his intention for it to be developed into a TV show. After touring around Ireland and then bringing the play to Edinburgh in 2018, he pitched the idea in a BBC Writersroom competition, which was a huge success. Michael hopes that people can learn from his experience that competitions can provide an incredible platform. He advises future screenwriters to look out for competitions on both the BBC Writersroom website and Twitter.

On that note, it was time for the afternoon sessions of the Watersprite Film Festival to recommence. I left the Old Divinity School with the feeling that if you have the determination, dedication and a desire to step outside of your comfort zone, kick-starting your career in the world of TV may not actually be as daunting as it first seems.