MD OF AN INDEPENDENT PRODUCTION COMPANY - JONNY YOUNG
Jonny Young is MD and Executive Producer at Oblong Films; an independent production company specialising in observational documentaries.
Oblong Films has covered subjects as diverse as health care, Arab wealth in London, death, sex, teenage life and human rights.
Previously at the BBC for 20 years, his work there included character led, presenter led and wildlife programmes such as A Life of Grime, Vets In Practice, Comic Relief, 999, It’s Not Easy Being Green and expedition series for the Natural History Unit.
HOW DID YOU GET IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
I got a week’s work experience in the news department of the BBC in Bristol after leaving school and before starting a degree. I worked for three months for no pay. My big break came when during the big storm of 1987 I was the only person (from the graphics department) to make it past the fallen trees and debris at 5am. I helped get the bulletins on air and I was given a year’s contract on the spot.
DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
No, I was advised at the time to get a degree that was more universal. I studied English and Philosophy. Various people said “You may end up hating TV and a general degree will help you get some other job outside of TV if you do”. But, crucially, I worked for the BBC every single day of my college holidays to keep my hand in for three years of studying. The week after graduation I started a BBC job that lasted (in one form or another) for 20 years!
WHAT ONE SKILL OR PERSONAL ATTRIBUTE WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE BIGGEST FACTOR AS TO WHY YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
It’s hard to choose one attribute as there are many that you need in combination to do well. What’s helped me get along is people skills, determination, a desire to get something right and to be fair to others.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A CV/EMAIL FROM STUDENTS TRYING TO BREAK IN TO THE BUSINESS?
The usual things are still very important; being clear and concise. This is a skill that will help in every facet of TV. In a CV, it’s great to get a sense of what kind of person you are too. We consider CVs when we are putting together a team and getting a sense of the candidate’s character type helps a lot.
WHAT TURNS YOU OFF OR ACTS AS A RED FLAG FROM YOUNGER FILM-MAKERS EITHER ON-SET OR IN EMAILS?
Not bothering to research what the company does and not knowing anything about its output. Or worse, getting the name of the company wrong!
WHAT MISTAKES DO YOU SEE STUDENTS MAKING THAT ARE COMING UP IN YOUR AREA?
Sometimes - and it is rare - a student or graduate will assume that they are eligible for a broadcast role as a director because they have directed a student film while at college. What employers are looking for is people who are keen to get on and assume those senior roles in production - but have the humility to realise that they will have to learn on the job and adapt to the particular pressures and strains of a real working broadcast environment before they take on those bigger jobs.
WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE AND OUTLOOK ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE INDUSTRY? ALSO, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU BEGAN AND HOW HAS THIS IMPACTED ON YOUR WORK?
In some ways the current state is good and has never been better. There are now more channels and more outlets for our work. But on the flip side, the industry has polarised between terrestrial broadcast and those other outlets like satellite and internet. The competition for sought after terrestrial commissions is greater. Therefore the commissioners are more demanding and more choosy than ever. They will ask production companies to jump through more hoops and that, of course, means expense on our part. Getting a broadcast TV commission is harder than it has ever been.
ON SET/IN YOUR WORKING ENVIRONMENT:
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ON SET/PRACTICAL HINTS AND TIPS?
WHAT “DO’S AND DON’TS” WOULD YOU SUGGEST? MAYBE WORKING WITH OTHERS OR SOMETHING YOU LIKE TO DO ON SET TO MAKE THINGS EASIER?
I work in Observational Documentary so the filming is always unpredictable. I make sure I’m prepared for the plan to go wrong. Don’t get shirty and snappy at people. Do work with the circumstances and remember, as long as you know what the plan was you can go off it if needs be. Sometimes the things you don’t plan for are going to be the best things in your documentary. As an Exec my top focus is the contributors; they are the most important people on location. You will have no programme without contributors so you need to respect and work with them at all times.
WHEN YOU ARE FIRST BROUGHT ON TO A PROJECT, WHAT ARE YOUR IMMEDIATE THOUGHTS AND PROCESSES?
It’s important to know what the brief is. Ask yourself “what does the commissioner want?” Everyone in my team also has to know what the production company has promised to deliver. You can deviate from that plan but only so long as there’s good communication up the commissioning chain. Timescales, crewing, budget, equipment - they all start with the brief. If you don’t know what you’re making, everything else will fall apart. So ask yourself, “what is this series or film all about?” and then remember it every day; it’s easy to get sidetracked.
ADVICE AND MISTAKES:
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
I was told that you should make friends with production co-ordinators and production managers as they are the ones who hold the purse strings and organise everything once shooting is all underway. If you end up being a producer or director you can’t move without their say so. They can be a tremendous ally - so make friends with the production management!
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU COULD GIVE?
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BLUNDER?
Thinking that TV sounded glamorous.