I am wearing waterproof mascara for the last day of our Women in Film and TV Mentoring Scheme. Six months after we started, twenty talented women are now firm friends and, together, helped by our industry mentors, we have changed our lives from the inside out.
If this all seems a little sentimental, consider this. In a recent survey by Directors UK, the average percentage of TV dramas directed by a woman was found to be 8%. This means that in the already highly competitive field in which I work, I am in a distinct minority. I have never been one for special pleading. However a series of diverse and challenging jobs and the death of my mother had left me feeling low. I wanted to move forward in my career but I needed someone to talk to. In my interview for the scheme, when I was asked what the hardest thing about taking part would be, I said I had already done it – it was asking for help.
A questionnaire helped me identify my concrete goals. Although I had enjoyed the last few years directing factual programming I wanted to move back to directing my first love, drama. And after working in the States for some time I needed to re-introduce myself to the UK industry in that light. I was lucky enough to be paired with the inspirational Emma Turner, Senior Executive Producer, Worldwide Drama at Fremantle Media. Encouraged by our monthly meetings, my focus, energy and application to finding and creating new work tripled.
Mid-career is exactly when you need a mentor most. Re-positioning to get what you really want takes a lot of time and effort and, as a freelancer, having a sounding board is a huge plus, while having someone you have to report to really makes you get on and do stuff! Emma was warm, practical, straight down to business, which suited me perfectly. She also got the range of my work and saw it as an asset, not a drawback. This was not psychoanalysis or cosy chats about the industry, this was ‘What can you do to get where you’re going?’ and it suddenly all seemed possible.
Forging a supportive network with the other twenty women on the scheme came easily. The weekly seminars we each had to deliver on our specialist subject helped us realise what we already knew, and share it with others. Although I have lectured professionally, I still found it quite nerve-wracking and that fear bound us together and made us look out for each other. I also found it cathartic as it allowed me to articulate what I had been feeling and had noticed in the industry for a while now – that my role as a director was changing. There was a point one evening when it all just came together, the group gelled, we had become more than colleagues, we were all friends.
So what did I gain from all this camaraderie and support?
Not just a warm fuzzy feeling – real benefits.
- Contacts. It’s a hard fact that this business is built on who you know and whether you are starting out or starting over you wonder how you’ll ever get to know all those fabulous people who are going to give you work. What you come to realise is that everyone is connected, so the industry meetings generously set up by my mentor led to many others. The group also went out of their way to help each person make contacts and shared advice and support along the way.
- Soft Networking is a vastly underestimated skill. Going to screenings and industry events, helping friends promote their work, sharing contacts and ideas all help build a community that you are part of, so important if you are a freelancer. You get to hear about funding opportunities and it can lead to great work relationships.
- Confidence. Everyone always says this about mentoring but it’s true. Having discussed approaches and solutions for six months with Emma, I now know what she would say in most work situations. Her mantra is ‘Just do it’, and the more you do, the more confident you feel pushing out of your comfort zone.
- New projects. In the last six months I have written the first draft of a new feature script and am preparing for my first trip to Cannes. I am directing a new short written by one of our group. I have written a prize winning pitch for a TV drama series. I started this blog which has now had almost 1,500 views and been reposted on industry websites; and I am delivering my seminar on directing at Cardiff Digital Week. I have also recut my showreel, reworked my C.V. and improved my interview technique, all using professional industry coaching and feedback on the scheme.
- Jobs. I am hearing about more jobs now through my new network, and I am much more focused about what kind of work I am looking for. This might sound counter-intuitive in the recession hit world of ‘take what you can get’ but trying to please everyone and do everything wasn’t working for me. Now I’m doing what I really want to do and so can be 100% dedicated to making it happen. And although range is useful, everyone loves a specialist.
- Goodwill. You hear a lot about how difficult this industry is and how cut throat but not much about how people genuinely want to help you out. Experienced practitioners love passing on knowledge so asking for advice is much more profitable than gunning for a position in their company. Mentoring brings out the best in people and makes them feel they are giving back. So believe in a benevolent universe.
- Passion. No one does this job for the money. We do it because we love it, and we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else. Mentoring someone or being mentored reignites that passion and the desire to make someone proud. I am extremely proud of everything we have achieved on this scheme. We are a community who care so much about the stories we tell and our desire to tell them. Why not offer that same care to each other along the way?
So, to sum up, to Women in Film and TV, especially our gifted scheme producer Nicola Lees, huge thanks. My fellow mentees and new-found friends, I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other. And, as my lovely mentor and namesake, Emma, said at our last meeting, ‘Shall we just keep going?’
Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse… Thank you.
Who has been your most memorable mentor, or are you still looking? Have you enjoyed being a mentor yourself?
Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @emlin32