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March 2012: Amy Robbins
1997 English and Psychology
What I am doing now:
I work in TV as a freelance producer / director. The programmes I do are very varied but generally they’re factual or factual entertainment shows. They range from What Not To Wear, The Restaurant and A Place In The Sun, to This Morning, Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity and antiques shows like Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is and Cash In The Attic.
How did you get to where you are now?
I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do when I left Keele, but having moved to London I got a job with management consultancy firm KPMG in their strategy unit. After a couple of years I knew business and the corporate life wasn’t for me and I started looking into the TV industry. My first job was assistant to the MD at Planet 24 who made The Big Breakfast at that time. Then I was a PA in the Entertainment department at the BBC, and from there I was moved on to The Weakest Link which had just started, and got my first researcher role finding and casting the contestants and supervising them in studio. Since then I’ve moved from job to job going through the ranks, becoming an assistant producer and then a producer / director. Some jobs last a week, some last a year, freelancing can be scary but something usually turns up, and you never know what you’ll be doing next.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I think surviving a substantial time abroad with tricky presenters is an achievement – sometimes you work with difficult people who wind you up and are a strain to be around! You always have to be calm and nice. Hearing myself talk in the diary room on Big Brother was surreal, not sure it’s an achievement but it’s definitely something you remember.
And your biggest mistake?
You make them all the time, I do still! It’s a creative job so there’s not usually a right or wrong answer. I’ve self shot an interview then right at the end realised I forgot to press record! Luckily I noticed and did it again. I’ve done a live broadcast where the presenters earpiece went down and he couldn’t hear the studio; that wasn’t a mistake, just one of those things but it was heart stopping knowing you’re broadcasting live and it’s gone wrong.
What are your ambitions now?
I really enjoy my job as it is. The next stage would be to series produce but that means you’re usually office based and more of a people manager and trouble shooter. I like being out and about shooting on location, interviewing people etc. I would like to do some higher end prime time documentaries. But, knowing how "flakey" the industry can be I’m happy to be working and getting experience on lots of different programmes.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Don’t get into it for the money or the glamour! You have to be genuinely passionate to survive the ups and downs, and if you’re not you’ll get found out quickly. The hours are long, the actual job can involve a lot of menial tasks, and you need strong people skills. Being a freelancer can be tough - there are lean times when there’s not much work around or broadcasters suddenly tighten their belts. But it’s a great fun job, you get to travel the world, see all kinds of locations, meet all sorts of people and it’s fast moving and exciting. There are exceptions, but generally with TV you have to start at the bottom making the tea, often on unpaid work experience and graft your way up through being a runner, researcher, assistant producer, producer etc. Experience is everything, employers usually look at your credits more than your degree. Being able to self shoot with a broadcast standard camera is a big advantage nowadays, budgets have shrunk so lots of footage is self shot to save money.
What made you choose Keele University?
Being able to do a joint English and psychology degree, I loved both subjects and couldn’t choose between them. Keele let me do both, not many universities offered dual honours at that time. I also liked that it was on campus and it had a friendly feel to it.
What kind of a student were you?
Not bad but I could have been a lot more focused. I wasn’t far off a first and I now wish I’d done a bit more and got one. I genuinely loved my subjects but I should have worked a bit harder I think. I was on sports teams and had a brilliant social life, probably a little too good!
How has Keele influenced your life?
I’m so glad I did a degree, I think it’s helped me in all kinds of ways in my working life, and I made some great friends there. It was the perfect transition for leaving home and going into the world.
What is your favourite memory of Keele?
Has to be the Union on a Friday and Saturday night. We’d all get dressed up together and head out after a few bottles of Mateus Rosé – which I haven’t touched since!
What is your impression of Keele now?
I drove through not long ago, and it didn’t seem to have changed at all. I look back at it fondly, it was a great time.