How to stand out as a researcher

So you’re a researcher, you’ve undoubtedly passed through the rite of passage of being a runner, or maybe that specialism in 19th century Russian literature has propelled you to your first researcher role. Either way you’ve got the job, you are well chuffed and you are raring to go! So what is going to make you stand out amongst the crowd? How are you going to play the game but be seen for all your hard work?

Here are a few hints and tips to get you noticed for all the right reasons, and get you on the right path for a long and wonderful career in television.

Triple check everything

Check check and triple check everything. Don’t rely on a whim or a hunch or a google search. Verify your facts and at least if possible with a variety of sources. Your producer will expect this and I know it sounds like common senses but you’d be surprised. Have you ever been sat at home and watched something and know the programme not to be factually correct, not often I imagine but when you do, you really remember. No doubt as well these times are usually accompanied by a string of letters to Points of view and the Daily Mail. If you are wanting to make a great first impression then get the detail right. This is even more especially important on consumer shows or current affairs shows, where incorrect information can result in legal action. If you are unsure then ask someone, ask how they would go about it, but make sure this doesn’t become a common occurrence as it will make you look incompetent.

Get to know your contributors

A contributor can look amazing on paper, that professor from Oxford to talk about Greek history for your BBC 4 doc, well this guys super qualified, the woman with OCD, but addicted to having sex whilst wearing oven gloves, brilliant for the obs doc.. They might well be, but dig a little deeper than an initial chat and some information. The team will expect and insist on this but sometimes when deadlines are looming and you want to get a contributor quickly you can go with what’s easiest. That can backfire on you. Always meet with people and screen test them, someone can be wonderful in person but put a camera in front of them and they can clam up, act strange, or talk in a fashion that really isn’t them. Now you know that, and you know to do that. Talk to them in a lot of detail about themselves, what they feel comfortable talking about, put the contributors at ease, be their friend. You are often the first person they meet and often the person they feel the most comfortable with. When you get bits of information, it’s imperative that you share this with the Producer, ie “Mary is ok with talking about this, but not this, or she feels better with only two people around when she is being filmed. Make them feel safe and that they are not being exploited. Sometimes it’s good to get them to reassert why they have agreed to do the documentary, what they want to go out of it. This gives them a bit of control and also makes for a better working environment.

The best researchers are the ones that are the most empathetic and the most socially aware. They know how to read a situation and how to respond in the most appropriate way. There is nothing more off putting for a potential contributor than a researcher who has no interest in them or patronises them or makes them feel stupid. You won’t always get on with your contributors and you won’t always be treated that well by them. If you show them respect though, value why they are there and do your homework about them, then the production will run much more smoothly.

Don’t rely on google

One of the pet hates of many a Series and Exec Producer is the researcher’s reliability on google. The need to stay at their desk surfing the net for information rather than pick up the phone and engage with people. Now many of the producers will have researched pre the launch of google and most will say there is no better research than speaking to someone, many people, going to libraries, checking records, verifying facts, and doing it all again. It’s often whilst doing this that you can come across new contributors or find different angles to the documentary that you would not find on the internet. By engaging with the experts you are more likely to find hidden gems and facts. So make sure your Series Producer sees you on the phone, surrounded by books and ultimately passionate about the documentary on fly fishing. Be passionate, have ideas but always back it up with evidence.

Be multi skilled

In this day and age it’s essential to be multi skilled. If you can shoot and edit amazing, you will be much more helpful on a shoot. If you have web skills then great start thinking about different platforms for the content. If you don’t drive, you are also at a distinct disadvantage. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get work but may limit some opportunities available. Think as a researcher, think outside the box. “Oh we are filming abroad and I speak the language” That could save on a translator. One of my former trainees whilst working on a hard hitting current affairs doc in Central America was the only person on the team who could speak Spanish. This saved so much time and also helped with the local fixer. She also gained instant credibility with the contributors and ultimately their trust. You’d be surprised by how your passion and knowledge for something can really help a production. A researcher on another current affairs programme on pay day loans had previously worked for a similar company and gained access and trust immediately. Simply because she’d been there, she knew the right questions to ask and was seen as “one of us” rather than some snotty researcher from a giant corporation. Don’t down play that, it’s essential when dealing with people.

Come up with alternative solutions

Production can change with the wind, contributors can drop out, access can fall through, budgets can be cut and weather can stop filming. The best researchers always have a back up plan and always come up with alternative solutions. So have that “save the day” mentality. Be careful not to tread on people’s toes or take over too much, but do try and save the day. Think about different locations for shooting, is there someone else that can come in and be filmed at short notice? Not always possible but if you’ve been speaking to a number of people it might be. Don’t be complacent and don’t think oh my job is done now. Think always how best can I help this production.

Be a team player

In television team work is essential. Long hours, time away filming, quite frankly people want to work with people that they know and trust. That are easy to get on with, can muck in and that can just really get on with it. Don’t be particular about what you will and won’t do. If everyone is busy and you’re just stood there, then pick up that kit, help out. Even just make some busy and stressed people cups of tea, that truly can be something that paints you in a great light.

Support the runners

You’ve undoubtedly been a runner, you know what it’s like. Sometimes it can be really shitty. Oh yes and you remember the condescending researcher who in some perverse universe thought they were Lady Mary Crawley and you were there willing servant. Well don’t become that person. Just because someone has treated you in that way doesn’t mean that the cycle has to continue. Be a wise friend, make sure they do what they need to do, but pass on some tips of your own from your running days. You can also get them to make your job easier, they will often be dealing with contributors and you can find out all sorts about a person just simply from their journey from reception to meeting you. People are more likely to chat to runners and this in turn can be a source of good and useful information when working with them.

Smile through it.

The hours might be long, the information that you need is not easy to find. The item that you spent ages on has been dropped for whatever reason. The producer is having a bad day and taking it out on you. We all have those days and all you want is a large glass of wine, a bowl of chips and a good friend to bitch to. It’s all part of the production cycle and you have to remember to smile through it. We can get wrapped up in the importance of our own little world but hey you are not on the front line at warm or saving lives in ER, it’s only telly. It can be so reaffirming on a stressy day just to take a deep breath and say that to yourself over and over again.

The production manager is your friend!

On any production always remember make the production manager your friend. They are the heart and soul of the production, the logistics, the money, the nurturing support figure and the one who has everyone’s ear. They are often overlooked in the hustle and bustle if editorial egos, but they do have a lot of power. Take time to get to know them, make their life easier. Think about ways to do things more cost effectively and reflect that I your research, none of this “I’ve been doing some research in Antigua ” for your documentary on pork pies.. The PM can also be the key to your next job and next gig. Series producers and talent managers will often go to them for feedback on researchers so don’t piss them off.

Right you are ready to go, you’ll be brilliant researchers. It can be stressful, it can be full of egos, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun! Enjoy, be professional and keep everything focused on the end programme. Then you’ll be really proud.


That’s so gay..dealing with homophobia at work

Sometimes we can be sat at work and a comment can fly past our ears that takes us back to being 13 years old and in the classroom. Often disguised as banter, casual comments can sting, hurt or put us in a place where we feel excluded, as if we are the outsider and that our differences are merely tolerated at best.

The other week, we were talking casually about a musty smell in the office (turned out to be paint) and we got onto the topic of leaving clothes in the washing machine too long and ending up damp (I know riveting right). My colleague said “it’s something all men do”. Anyway I said “oh I never do that” to which a colleague replied “well you’re not a real man!” Hold up wait a minute, what did you just say should have been my response but instead I just laughed nervously and tried to be witty. It wasn’t till later that I thought hang on, you’ve just singled me out, made fun of me and all in the name of banter. At the time i thought am I being over sensitive, would a sassy reply suffice or if I said “actually what do you mean by that, are you saying my masculinity is not the same because I am gay?” Would that have just been met with defensiveness and “oh it was only a joke don’t take yourself seriously”. As LGBTQI people, sometimes we can make excuses for other people’s ignorance, to brush it aside, to respond wittingly or just brush it off, but sometimes it gets to us, and we need to be honest about that.

Homophobia in the workplace can be blatant and ferocious but more often it’s subtle, disguised as banter or simply used a way of excluding people. How many of us have been sat in work or joined a new team and never have been asked if we are dating/married/have a partner/kids, whilst our straight counterparts this can be the first question asked. Maybe that’s awkwardness or a presumption that because we are gay then we must have a certain lifestyle. Maybe I am over generalising but it’s interesting. In the middle of a conversation someone once said to me, “oh you wouldn’t understand as you’ll never have kids”. Boom, excluded, presumptions made. That might be an innocent comment but the effect screams “you are different”. The workplace like high school wants people to subscribe into their selected roles, to fit into boxes and as a gay person you can think I need to hide who I am to get ahead. To butch it up, to not reveal to much about myself, to be that enigma that all I am known for is being good at my job.

In television it can help to be outwardly camp and be all about the fun. Many a female producer will surround herself with a harem of “outrageous” gay men who hang on her every word and enjoy a bitch and a gossip. Nothing wrong with that, but just make sure you are being true to yourself and not performing to please. So often as gay men we feel the need to perform, to put on a show, to be witty and fabulous and sometimes it’s great and other times we just simply can’t be bothered. Allow people to see a multifaceted version of yourself and allow some vulnerability to shine through. That especially can be hard in the cut throat world of telly but you’ll be surprised how people respond to your true self. Whoever you are, you will always feel more comfortable in work if you are accepted for who you are.

“Oh it’s really obvious you are gay” I heard a month a so ago by a colleague who I was just randomly chatting to about nothing much in particular. Well I am gay I thought should I be ashamed of that? I’ve had friends and colleagues being talked about in the opposite way “oh you’d never know he was gay” “it’s such a shame he’s so straight acting”. It’s as if some people’s ideas of what gay people is narrowed to certain stereotypes and in a way that makes them feel more comfortable.

An old boss used to call me, different, theatrical, and proud and any other 1950s euphemism for gay. I think what really irked him was that I was secure with myself, I was unapologetic for who I was, I was quite a private person but never ashamed of who I was. My openness felt like a threat to him, particularly when the other gay men and women in the office kept themselves very much to themselves and kept their private lives very private. I guess I have no poker face, wear my heart on my sleeve and throw myself into situations in a positive lively manner. But I have always been open and honest with who i am. What I came to realise was the issue was his issue, I haven’t changed, I’m not ashamed and I’m confident and he couldn’t accept that. Hey ho shake it off!

Sometimes with other gay men in the office it can feel like territory is being marked, the “only gay in the office” syndrome. I’ve seen it where men are either lusted and dissected or dismissed because they don’t conform. As gay people we need to accept and acknowledge people for who they are. It’s equally as damaging to put our fellow gays into boxes that aren’t really them. A colleague introduced themselves to me as “the queen of the gay mafia” once which made me giggle a bit and I replied hi, but I thought this was about saying who’s boss, and reminding me that I was new. It’s interesting as I’ve never really been bothered by cliques, I like people, I get on with people but I don’t need to be part of a gang to feel secure. Sometimes that goes against the grain in the office environment.

If you hear things that offend you, make you feel uncomfortable or exclude you then do speak out. Acknowledge that that comment has offended you. Educate the person. I have said “thank you for your casual homophobia” a couple of times and that’s thrown people. If people are saying things that are about you or about LGBTQI people then speak up if you can, explain why you find this offensive. I had a debate with someone once who was saying “how gay” a TV presenter was and how he “behaved in a really gay way”. I pulled them up on that and made them see that they were using gay In a really negative way and by describing this person as offensive they were saying the same about me. You may not feel comfortable about saying something directly, but make a note of the comments, find someone you can trust and talk about it with them, speak to HR about it as there will be procedures and policies in place to deal with this. The wonderful Stonewall who do amazing work have a whole section on their site about this,

As more and more people come out in senior work roles Tim Cook from Apple being the latest, this can only send a positive message. Look for role models in your organisation, chat to them about how they got ahead, talk to them about how they coped with things, and what spurred them on. I think it’s always important to have a role model or a mentor. If you can get one then it’s worth it.

Always be your self, be unapologetic for who you are. Focus on your work and doing a good job. Appreciate what’s important to you and you will find your way.