In the Spotlight… TV producer Lyndsay Duthie
An executive producer with credits for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky, Lyndsay Duthie began her career 20 years ago, when she became the series producer of Trisha, aged just 23. Part of the ITV development team for Loose Women, she has interviewed murderers on death row and created the award-nominated documentary School Boy Dad. She has also served on the board of Women in Film & TV and been a speaker at the Royal Television Society and the International Emmys.
Now running her own production and training company, Ice Blue Media, Lyndsay is the programme leader for film & TV at the University of Hertfordshire and has just co-written her first book, The TV Studio Production Handbook. WFTV CEO Kate Kinninmont caught up with Lyndsay at her book launch at BFI on Friday.
Congratulations on the book! Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get your first job in TV?
My first job was at ITV, as an audience researcher on the Vanessa show. Literally trying to find people with opinions who could sit in the studio audience in Norwich and turn up at 9am – all done without the use of internet and lots of phone bashing! I was just so happy to have my first job, and to see my name on the credit roll was an incredible moment. I got the job through work experience; I hand-wrote a letter every week to the series exec until they eventually got me in for two weeks’ work experience – I stayed for seven years!
At 23, you must have been the youngest ever series producer?
Working on a daily transmission deadline was a massive challenge but I loved every second. I was so very lucky to have had some fantastic mentors that really championed me and helped me along. I have never forgotten this, and try and do the same for people I have worked with. Being the youngest showrunner on a major UK network show led to me being selected for Edinburgh International TV Festival’s ‘Ones to Watch’ talent programme, which opened many doors for me and am proud to still be a part of – as a sponsor now, helping new talent find their way into the industry.
You then moved into development, working on shows like Loose Women.
The ITV development department was an exciting place to work, we generated so many new formats and documentaries not to mention countless versions of the popular …from Hell-branded documentaries. We also had a series of Jerry Springer UK… now, behind the scenes of that would have made some TV gold! Loose Women was conceived by ITV’s then Head of Daytime, who wanted a UK version of the still very successful USA show The View. The show really relies on the talent and the chemistry between the women; they need to be relatable, honest and not afraid to have an opinion.
Next came documentaries. What was it like spending time on death row?
Death row was a fascinating experience. I love how in television one day you could be working on a food show – I worked for Endemol’s BBC Two Food & Drink series – and the next you’re becoming an expert in how to secure an interview with a death row inmate. The documentary followed a teenage vampire cult group who had bludgeoned to death one of the member’s parents. We’d promised the broadcaster we would have an interview with cult group leader who, at the time, was the youngest person on death row, so we had to make it happen. The first time we arrived in Florida to film the prisoner, he pulled out. That was a difficult call back to the exec in the UK, as it meant we had to start the whole negotiation with the state penitentiary press office all over again, which takes 28 days, but we got there in the end and got the interview.
School Boy Dad was nominated for an award. What do you think made that film stand out?
It followed the story of a boy who became a dad at just 12 years old. It really stood out as one of the first documentaries to gain intimate access fly-on-the-wall access, following the family through to the baby’s christening. There were some extraordinary scenes, like when the 12-year-old dad’s friends come to ask if he could play on their bikes but his girlfriend, the mother of his child, demands he stays home and bathes the baby. He was just a kid, trying to raise a kid. It’s a real privilege to be allowed in to people’s homes, to film their lives through the highs and lows.
After ITV and Endemol you set up your own company, Ice Blue Media. What made you decide to go it alone?
I had originated my own primetime documentaries and series and wanted to develop my own slate of ideas and have ultimate control. It was a fantastic learning curve and I really fell in love with the business side of television industry. A highlight was pitching at the Banff World TV Festival and receiving development funds for our first series idea from UKTV.
What then led you to move into academia?
Having started a family, I was searching for work-life balance. I made the transition over to academia over a number of years, starting by running short training courses for PACT and NFTS, and giving guest lectures. An opportunity came up to run a Creative Skillset-accredited programme at the University of Hertfordshire, which would give me the chance to shape a newly validated course and bring industry techniques in. Working with students is very rewarding, because you witness their journey to becoming a filmmaker and their ideas coming to life on screen. Under my leadership, the course won its first RTS Award and won again in consecutive years. I’m deeply proud of what the course has achieved. I’m thrilled to have won the vice chancellor’s award for excellence in education and graduate success for three years running.
Tell me about your book. What motivated you to take this on?
The TV Studio Production Handbook is designed to cover everything, from idea development through to broadcast, for all studio genres. My co-author, Lucy Brown, and I interviewed some of the world’s leading TV-production experts and executives from the UK, USA, Australia and China, working on global smash-hit formats such as …Got Talent, The Voice and Big Brother. It also includes scripts from dramas like Coronation Street, the world’s longest-running TV soap, as well as shows like Teletubbies and Good Morning Britain. We spotted a gap in the market for a contemporary handbook on the specifics of studio production that students could use. The studio tends to mystify students to begin with, because there’s so much equipment, it often involves a large crew and the jargon and protocol can feel like a foreign language. This book helps break each stage and job role down to guide new entrants through the maze of studio work.
A lot of our members are freelance and manage their own career paths. What’s your advice for people starting out?
Tenacity, tenacity, tenacity! Prepare to look for work even before you graduate. Make sure you have your CV up to date, a current show reel, business cards and active social-media accounts to ensure that the moment a job comes up, or you get a chance meeting, you are ready. It goes without saying that the more work experience you can get, the more contacts you will make and the more edge your CV will have. What is your USP? Why should they hire you? What can you bring that only you can? Maybe it’s your ideas, contacts or that you speak a language – what is it that makes you you? Always show your enthusiasm and passion.
The TV Studio Production Handbook by Lucy Brown and Lyndsay Duthie is published by IB Taurus and is out now.