Search This Blog

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sarah Thornton: behind the scenes with the Controllers

Sarah Thornton,VP Production and Development, Factual Entertainment, Discovery Networks International, is a member of the 2014 Festival Advisory Committee and produced 4 of the 12 Meet the Controller sessions at GEITF. 

There is a saying that being a best man at a wedding is like being asked to sleep with the Queen Mother... it's an honour, but no one really wants to do it. Although I am a woman I have (once) had the dubious honour of being a "best man". And so it's with a very small amount of authority that I draw this unlikely comparison when it comes to describing the task of producing four hours of Controller Sessions at GEITF.

I started, like an anxious best man with a blank page, by contacting the controllers and their PR teams. With a diplomacy I had previously employed for approaching new family and friends, I politely requested intel and interesting tidbits from the inside... secretly yearning for some real gossip that would entertain the audience.

Meet the Controller: Ben Frow
It was during this early planning that it dawned on me paying delegates were going to be in Edinburgh for these sessions and so I had to make sure they made some actual sense. There was a delicate balance to be found in responding to - and hopefully making - industry chatter while ensuring we all got a proper insight into what the controllers would be commissioning this coming year.

And then it was late July - what had felt like an age of prep time all of a sudden seemed somewhat insubstantial. As the big day came closer I persisted with (many) knowingly annoying requests for funny photos, facts and stats, clips and stories... All in the name of crafting an hour that would be humorous without being bawdy, intelligent without being boring and insightful without being too contentious.

Meet the Controller: Adam MacDonald
The panel itself was then a lesson in not wanting to upset the in-laws whilst at the same time pleasing the crowd. And that's probably where the comparisons end. Because ultimately - thank god - it wasn't down to me. We were all in the very capable hands of the controllers themselves, our chairs and - this year - the audience thanks to the rather brilliant app.

I'd love to claim the credit for Ben Frow being riotously funny, Steve Regan announcing his plans to commission the "most offensive show ever" and Adam MacDonald showing a clip of Wild Things (if you didn't see it, you missed out). But in reality it was their hour and it was all down to them.

Meet the Controllers: Multichannel,
Steve Regan
I do hope that someone in the Sidlaw got something out of it and, as is the case at any good wedding, may have even struck up a promising friendship since. It is after all why we do it.

To all the controllers and their teams - Nat Geo, Comedy Central, MTV, A&E, Sky 1, Channel 5 and UKTV - and our chairs, Lauren Taylor and Charlene White, thank you for putting up with me and my teams' numerous requests and for cooperating so kindly in preparation for these sessions.

I wish I'd had the sessions' Executive Producer, Graham Stuart, and master of the control room, Nobby, by my side the day I was best man.
Meet the Controller: Emma Tennant
They are without doubt the two calmest men I've had the pleasure of sharing 4 sweaty hours with in a control room.

Oh, and since a rather hectic Friday meant I needed to be in two places at once on several occasions I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my colleague and co-producer, Mark Procter.

No comments:

Post a Comment