The Network 2010

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend The Network as part of the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International TV Festival. It was four days of networking, wine consuming and skills learning. I was hoping to blog each night while I was there, but there was no internet where I was staying, so here I will let you all know what went on up in the chilly hills of Edinburgh in one blog post.

Thursday 26th August – Who the hell is Harry and the complications if Scottish Money.

Caught a train at 6.08am in the morning. A time of the morning I am only used to seeing when going to bed, not getting out of it. My dad dropped me off, still in pjs, and I sat cold and half asleep on the platform, cushion in hand, waiting for the train that would take me to bonny Scotland. Well, to Oxford, where I’d catch a train to Birmingham, where I would then get on a train to Edinburgh.

I had prepared for my 6 1/2 hour journey. I had a cushion. I had my laptop and several DVDs. I was sorted. What I had not accounted for was sitting next to a couple who clearly thought I couldn’t hear them through my headphones and proceeded to discuss matters that I really had no desire to hear. I could only feel uncomfortable as they sat discussing his ex-wife, who repeatedly rang him to accuse him of not buying their chilren new school coats, while she, the new girlfriend pleaded with him to not talk to her on their weekend away. Oh joy.

But I arrived in Edinburgh, where I got a taxi to Napier University to meet my fellow Networkers. It was on route to Napier that I was to learn my first new thing of the weekend: Scottish money looks nothing like our money – yet it is the same. I withdrew cash from a cash machine only to stand looking with bewilderment at the notes I had received. I then spent the taxi ride there pondering whether this money was the same as ours, or did it have a different value? Can I spend English and Scottish money at the same time? It was all too much for someone who had been up since 4am, and who is also a little stupid.

On arriving and collecting my sexy network ‘bag’ filled with what can only be described as crap, I was led to my CV Clinic with Daniell Morrisey, Talent Business Manager at the BBC. In nicer words, Daniell told me my CV was basically a bit rubbish, but gave me good advise on how to change that. Good start!

After this I spent some time wondering around like a lost sheep when I found a Steward who directed me to ‘Presenter Experience.’ I was faced with a room of new people and I suddenly felt like I was back in Freshers Week, awkwardly talking to strangers hoping they would be my friend. It was at this point I found out the second thing I learnt while in Edinburgh; Arthur’s Seat is not called Harry’s Chair. Needless to say everyone laughed at me, but at least it broke the ice. Me and my new ‘friends’ were told told by Ewan, a CBBC Producer, that we had to prepare a two minute piece to present in a studio next door. I decided that I would play it safe and recite my favourite Road Dahl poem, A Hand in the Bird. It’s a little cheeky and with a few actions, it went down rather well. Joel from Blue Peter, who was watching, even asked if I was ‘a professional’. Now, he didnt specify what kind of professional, but I took it as a compliment none the less.

Once this was over, we had an introductory lecture from Director of BBC Children’s and Chairman of the Network, Joe Godwin, followed by dinner and collection of our keys. We stayed in Pollock halls at Edinburgh University, which were pretty nice by the standards of halls. But we didnt have long, no sooner had I got myself in the room, I was out of it again, off to our pub quiz with Al Murray.

Now I’m not really a fan of Al Murray, but our own exclusive ‘Compete for the Meat’ pub quiz was quite a fun way to start off the weekend. With rounds such as ‘The Career of Shane Richie’ and ‘Lookalikes that don’t look like who they are supposed to look like’ wine and beer flowed, crisps were eaten, (sometimes competitively), and chanting occured.

After the quiz we had a drinks reception where we could chat to all the people we’d met today. I mostly used this time to avoid speaking to important people who scared me and drink more free wine. A few of us headed out into Edinburgh, to mingle with the Festival crowd at E4’s Udder Belly, where there were far less intimidating important people.

Friday 27th August – Trying not to throw up Haggis on Charlie Brooker.

After breakfast, which was of course a fry up, we headed back to Napier to take part in our morning workshops, which we had selected before attending. I attended workshops with Karl Warner, Commissioning Editor at the BBC who is responsible for The Inbetweeners, Russell Howard’s Good News and Undercover Princes, Chris Shaw, Controller for Five, and James Kirkland, owner of Holler digital strategy agency. All were informative and enjoyable and I left having learnt a lot of new things from some quite important people.

We also had a session with Shamless, Clocking Off and State of Play writer Paul Abbott. I wasnt interested in Script Writing, but he was still an interesting person to listen to, if not a little abstract, with lots of talk of ‘telling stories from within you’.

After lunch we met our weekend workshop leaders and found out what we would be doing. There were five possible workshops to be placed in and I had been placed in ‘Behind the Scenes’ where we were going to learn how to produce a live show, which would be presented to all Networkers on Sunday. Paul Bennett, Head of Resources at ITV and Sid Cole, Executive Producer of CBBC were looking after us and teaching us everything we needed to know. I was very excited.

We then attended the ‘highlight’ of the TV festival. The MacTaggart lecture, which this year was going to be given by Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC. What I had anticipated to be a fiery reaction to the previous years attack on the BBC by James Murdoch was actually rather boring. He didn’t even wear a tie. Pfft.

This was followed by a reception in the National Scottish Museum, with yet more free wine and Canapes. This is where I discovered the third thing from my visit to Edinburgh; Haggis is disgusting. They were offering it out in little canape versions, but it did not make it taste any better. I haven’t ever eaten brains, but it tasted as I would imagine brains to taste. Unfortunately for me I had decided to try this culinary monstrosity whilst in mid conversation with Charlie Brooker. I had no choice but to eat it all. He’d already taken the piss out of me for apologising when I introduced myself, I wasnt about to spit up half eaten animal brains on him. Oh and by the way, the fourth thing I learnt; Charlie Brooker is exactly the same in real life as he is on TV. I didn’t do a lot of networking that night. I find the whole thing futile. What am I supposed to say to a forty something man whos half pissed? ‘Excuse me, hi, yeah, so, I ‘d quite like to do what you do, can you give me a job please? Oops, sorry, I seem to have thrown up Haggis all over you, terribly sorry….’

Saturday 28th August – Being told I had ‘moves’ by a member of Flawless.

Saturday was mostly about preparing for Sunday’s live show, learning the skills we needed to do it and allocating ourself roles. We learnt how to use proper camera, which was certainly a lot different to the hand held things I’d dealt with before. It was really cool, but I certainly wasn’t confident enough to put myself forward for the role of camera operator. Instead I went for Assistant Producer, which I got, along with another fellow networker. It was an important role and I was very excited. We spent most of the day running around after the other groups finding out what they were up to and reporting back to the crew to try and work out the logistics of turning that into a live show. Some groups, like the Sky group, were brilliantly helpful. Sky Anchor Martin Stanford and Producer James Weeks knew exactly what we needed to know to organise the show and gave us detailed information on the news reports that the Networkers were producing, and how they wanted it to play out on the day. Other groups however, not so helpful. On approaching Joe Mace, former TV presenter and producer at ITV, I left not having a clue what they were planning on doing. I was to find out that this was normal when dealing with Joe.

After a day of reheasals and running around we were invited to a special EastEnders masterclass. Which you regular readers will know was just about the most exciting thing that could possibly happen to me. It was a discussion about the 25th Anniversary Live Show that went out in February this year, with the writers and then director, and actors Charlie Clements (Bradley Branning) and Scott Maslen (Jack Branning). They showed us clips of things going wrong and even sneak previews of future story lines. Basically the best hour of my life. Ever. After, Scott and Charlie had to rush off for a plane…did that stop me? Did it heck. I chased after Scott like the crazed EastEnders fan that I am. His agent told me he had no time for a photo, at which point I must have looked like I was about to cry because he changed his mind, came back and posed with me. A small personal victory.

Once I had gotten over the delight of my photo with Scott, it was back to a short production meeting for tomorrows show and then a late arrival at The Channel of the Yeatr Awards with Jack Whitehall. The awards were ok, only saw two of them being giving out, including Channel 4 for Best Channel. The first time BBC 1 hasn’t won in forever. Well done Channel 4 I say! Sat with my fellow AP and Sid, who ate an apple through the whole thing and name dropped people he’d worked with. I literally love him.

Saturday night was without a doubt the highlight of the weekend. We had, for the first time, been permitted an invite into the exclusive MGEITF closing party at The George Hotel. And it. Was. Brilliant. We stopped off at what was the poshest Wetherspoons I have ever seen, got totally drunk on £6 wine and made our way to the place where TV dreams are made.

There were important people. There were celebrities. There was dancing. There was even a band madeup of important people. The Head of ITV was on keyboard. No jokes. That and that fact that they played only songs by The Rolling Stones pretty much meant they were the coolest band I have ever seen. With plenty of wine down me I lost all inhibitions, and approached every famous person I saw. I chatted to Matt Edmondson about his dislike of Children’s TV presenter Barney Harwood, I told Krishnan Guru Murthy that he was the god of news, and I hugged Richard Bacon having told him it was ‘an honour and a privilege’ to meet him. (a little inside joke for the listeners of his old 5Live show…). I also got told I had ‘moves’ by a dancer from Flawless, runners up of Britain’s Got Talent. He’s even added me on Facebook. I’m moving up in the world. I danced with Producers and Directors and Presenters until 3.30am, the whole time feeling confused as to why on earth people had let me in to this party.
Sunday 29th August – “I especially enjoyed running around like a mental.”

Unsurprsingly, I woke up with a hangover. I swayed my way to breakfast, with the full intention of easting museli and tucked in to a full fry up. I was nervous about the show anyway, but now had the added nerves of trying not throw up on Charlie Brooker. Again. We arrived and went through a full rehearsal, as us AP’s ran about making sure eveyone was ok, writing cue cards for presenter of the show Joe Godwin and making sure people got their VTs in on time. At 11.45 it all kicked off. The Audience arrived. The ‘Talent’ arrived. I ran around making sure everyone was where they needed to be and didn’t stop for air. I loved it. Every bit of it. And the show went brilliantly. Joe was happy, Martin Stanford was happy, I was happy. I even managed to hold back the sick.

After the live show we had a Q&A session with some broadcasters, inclusing Krishnan Guru Murthy who I had embarrassed myself infront of the night before. But, we had been asked by the technical guys if we could go ahead and film it, as we had done such a good job of the live show. I took on one of the cameras and loved it. Didnt get to hear any of the advise the peole on the stage were saying, just the whispers of the director in my ‘cans’ instructing me to get certain shots. It was a brilliant experience though.

And that was it. The Network 2010 was over. I said goodbye to the people I had met, who I will hopefully stay in touch with for a long time yet, and made sure Joe Godwin also knew had much I had enjoyed it, informing him my favourite part was ‘running around like a mental.’ Great.

Most importantly, I left with the enthusiasm and determination to succeed in TV I desperately needed after leaving University unemployed. Its going to be hard, but thanks to The Network I just might pull it off.

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