By Pat O’Mahony Freelance TV/radio producer/director/presenter. The brains (not the beauty) behind the media-mad
@OffMessage1. Ducking and diving as usual. Don’t tell a soul. See more on his website, this article first appeared here.
I remember a long time ago Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts being interviewed during a break in a video shoot on a (I think) BBC telly documentary celebrating the band’s 25th anniversary and when asked about what the previous quarter of a century had been like, he said something along the lines of, “Well, I’ve played for three years and sat around waiting for 22.”
I know how he feels.
I wrote here last year about the major downside of as a freelancer being too busy; of having your nose so close to the grindstone for a long period that you don’t have the time, energy or inclination to look ahead and plan for the next gig after the one you’re on shudders to a halt.
The flipside of that is when work dries up – or at least goes eerily quiet for a while – and you’re forced to get your pitching mojo back on.
Which is where I’m at right now.
Over the last few months I’ve got right back in the pitching groove, coming up with a bunch of TV and radio ideas, developing them and seeing if anyone’s interested.
It reminds me of the good old days back in London when it was all I seemed to do, a sure sign that I didn’t actually work enough.
The problem there was that very few of my undoubtedly wonderful ideas were ever commissioned.
Luckily for yours truly and my bank account, enough were.
Having been through all this before, then, my expectations this time round aren’t exactly sky high.
But whatever their various outcomes it’s the waiting that kills you.
And that waiting hasn’t been helped by, of all things, Brexit.
I was as surprised as everyone else – except those in the know, obviously – when Britain voted to leave the EU back in June.
But apart from a quiet daft-buggers shrug to myself, I didn’t think a whole lot of it after that.
How wrong I was.
I’d read only a few days before how they were expecting to be down some €20 million this year because of it, as the vast majority of their ad output was bought by media buyer companies based in London budgeting for it in sterling; so when post-Brexit sterling slumped, so too did RTÉ’s ad income.
The bad news for me was that this meant RTÉ television was, at least for now, not planning on employing any freelancers.
As RTÉ radio had just trained up and taken on a bunch of full-time producers and therefore were no longer likely to be in need of my services any time soon, that was a pretty large possible-gig door slammed shut right there.
They both still are still legally obliged to spend a certain percentage of their production budgets in the independent sector so it wasn’t all bad news, but having half your options with one major broadcaster cut off isn’t exactly ideal.
And it’s not just RTÉ in this business that Brexit’s already hit hard.
Someone at another broadcaster told me only the other week they were having huge problems finding sponsors for some of their programmes, be it because of currency fluctuations or just the general air of uncertainty in a lot of businesses ahead of the UK’s departure.
I’m currently trying to find a sponsor for a media project myself and it ain’t easy so I know just what they mean. The proposal is with a lot of folk at the mo so I sit and wait. That of course isn’t the only waiting I’m doing.
Over the last few months I’ve pitched ideas into some of the regular, well-advertised Irish broadcast funding rounds, all of which have specific decision timelines, as well as outside of these directly to those whose job involves commissioning new programmes, where timelines are more fluid, so when – even if – you might get a reply from them, to say the least, varies.
And not just in Ireland; I long ago learned that this is such a small market that relying on it is very risky so I’ve an idea about to go to a UK broadcaster too.
Another that I felt would be perfect for a certain British channel recently fell at the second fence, despite piquing the curiosity of an old mate in a production company there; when they brought it to a development meeting it was deemed too similar to a series that had just bombed for that channel and probably unsuitable for anyone else so they passed on it.
You win a few, you lose a lot.
It’s still all to play for apart from that last one so the waiting game continues for another while.
I know which one I’d like most to get green lit, except of course it’s never my call and as always, I’ll willingly and gladly go with whatever, if anything, flows.
I’ll possibly have come up with more ideas by the time you read this. In the meantime, the phone may well ring with a job offer as it does from time to time. Or it might not.
And all the while you go slowly doolally, both with boredom and watching your bank balance slowly shrink.
Freelancing, huh? ¯\_(?)_/¯
— Pat O'Mahony (@patomahony1) March 3, 2017