Stories from the industry

Elke Pattyn

Television reporter, VTM, Television News, Belgium

My job as a reporter is to generate ideas for stories in Belgium and abroad: I covered the 2012 US election and Obama’s inauguration, the Tsunami in Japan and earthquakes in Europe.

What is the best part of your job?

Traveling! I love working in the field. I love to be there when something major happens. I enjoy packing my suitcase and being in the airport in an hour, as I did with the Boston bombings. I like to show what’s going on, for people to see. CNN’s Richard Quest said that all journalists are in reality gossipers, they like people to hear it from them first!

How do you see your professional future?

I’d love to combine fieldwork and being an anchor – I will start anchoring this summer [this will become out of date]. But I never want to leave fieldwork. Anchoring is a new thing, I like to tell people what happens in the world, make sure they understand. I want to take charge of the newsroom and ask the right questions. I want to tell people stories in a way they want to see them.

When I was in Boston covering the bombings, I was tweeting and some people replied and said “you really have the best job”. It’s true, I have a dream job.

How do you see the industry evolving?

There is a lot of news. There will always be news, and there will be more news in the future. More people tweet, post photos online, write and edit blogs. People rely on the networks for filtering, and this will be more important going forward, as the amount of content increases.

Lise Lense-Møller

Independent film producer specializing in feature documentaries, Denmark

Because I do documentaries, I keep on learning. It’s like I’m in a constant dialogue with the world. I have done this for 35 years and still learn something new every week. We work like hell, so that keeps me going and motivated.

Can documentaries change the world?

Not on their own, but I do think they can help. Think of Burma VJ. We were able to attract the world’s attention on Burma and the government’s brutal repression of its people. The film was seen by 30 million people. We know Hillary Clinton watched it; there was a screening in 10 Downing Street and also in the United Nations. It had traditional distribution but also grassroots distribution through Burmese groups all over the world. All these different levels played into the film’s impact supporting those people that worked for change.

Or think of Into Eternity which focused on permanent storage for nuclear waste. The film alone would not have changed the world, but it came shortly before the Fukushima disaster. So it was used as a catalyst for change. So, yes, you can impact the world. While films cannot change the world, people can . And films can inspire people to do something.

Film-making is like running a marathon were the finishing line keeps moving. In my experience there is a delicate balance between creativity and finance. You need the financing to make creative work. The fight to protect creativity has become more difficult. Time is one of the basic tenets of creativity. You have to spend your time wisely to make creativity flow.

How do you see your professional future?

The problem with living in a project-based economy is that it’s quite hard to plan for the future. You start over every time. However, I would like to keep teaching: after 35 years in the business I have a lot of experience that I‘d like to share with future generations.

How do you see the industry evolving?

I think it will be broader in scope. Of course, there are many more opportunities out there. But from a film perspective the market is polarising. More low or no-budget films find an audience online these days. At the same time there are fewer and bigger flagship movies. Some traditional sources of financing are drying up. New business models are slowly emerging. Some are more commercial and depend on some kind of marketing money or sponsor. More experimental stuff will have to be no or low budget.

At the same time, some films you can do cheaper than you could before. Semi-professional films are growing – people just do it. The complete digitalization of equipment means everybody can now edit a film on their computer, except they do not necessarily have the skills.

At some point, all these online aggregators will need to start financing films. Now it’s all one big melting pot, no separate revenues from TV, DVD and so on. The new platforms must take some financial responsibility; otherwise there will be too few films for them – if they want national films, that is.

There’ll be lots of uncertainty. If you’re the kind of person who wants to know you can pay the rent six months from now, do something else. In a project economy, you don’t have the final decision on what happens.

Stephen Flint

Director of Operations World Wide Entertainment, Fremantle Media, UK

I have worked in entertainment for twenty five years. In music; in broadcasting; and now in production and distribution. I always planned to work on the business side of entertainment. I have no talent for performance, but I can apply my business talent to my favourite industry: entertainment. When I was young I read books about record companies and producers, not pop stars.

What is the best part of your job?

To see a new series launch successfully and make a huge impact with the audience. Being successful in key territories is essential. Also helping to produce better quality TV shows in emerging nations is very pleasing. After our guidance, producers often tell us they didn’t know they could make TV this well.

What is the worst part of your job?

Working hard on a new production then seeing it achieves disappointing ratings. Often you can put your heart and soul into a new launch but a tough competitive slot can kill it straight away.

How do you see your professional future?

Our company is strong in the industry but, as with many of our industry peers, we are suffering from reduced margins from the TV networks. My professional future is linked to the future of big network TV shows. If the TV audience becomes increasingly fragmented and fewer big hits are created, my future may take a different path.

But this fragmentation can bring new opportunities. At the end of the day, in this business it will always be crucial to spot a winning idea.

How do you see the industry evolving?

I anticipate the industry becoming populated by either big or small players. – The middle ground will disappear. Producers, distributors and broadcasters are consolidating. It will be hard to be successful without scale. Big networks will need big hits. And those hits will be controlled by the biggest producers and distributors.

There will be room for small, lower budget entrants supplying to a dedicated, smaller fan base.

The big players in television will have to work out how to co-exist alongside digital rivals and regulators will have to work out appropriate regulation in a world where you can watch TV and YouTube with the main family TV set.

The business is hit-driven and my position is dependent upon our company having hits. My passion for the industry must be balanced with some financial security. But it’s hard to plan a long term career when, in this rapidly evolving TV market, success with TV shows is ever-changing.

Working in TV is always challenging but it’s what makes it so interesting to be part of!

Bjorn Vandemeulebroeke

Cinema operator, Belgium

I started with popcorn and now I run a cinema! Every day is different. I really hope I can finish my career in the cinema business.

What is your background?

I started as a student, 15 years ago. I made popcorn in the evenings and on weekends. I started as an employee selling coke and popcorn, then got the chance to be assistant manager, and then became manager in different multiplexes – in Leuven, Kortrijk, Oostende and now in Ghent. I am grateful to my employer Kinepolis. I got the opportunity to be a star in their movie! I started with popcorn and now I run a cinema for them. I am fortunate and grateful to Kinepolis for investing in their staff, to create opportunities even for people without degrees like me.

What is the best part of your job?

Working with a lot of young people, lots of students. Visitors are happy: they are in leisure mode, they come to us to relax. I can influence the circumstances in the cinema and make it as good as possible. If they like it they will come back.

How do you see your professional future?

Maybe it’s typical for our region, but I would like to finish my career in the same company that I started in. I am very happy. I want to share my knowledge and expertise by educating others.

How do you see the industry evolving?

In the last ten years we have seen a major change. The cinema windows are shorter now. When I started in 1997, Titanic was released and played in cinemas over a year. Now if a movie stays in the cinema for ten weeks, it’s already a great success. Cinema is becoming more of a marketing tool for the DVD market.

There are two kinds of movie-goers: film-seekers and fun-seekers. Fun-seekers go bowling or karting or to the movies, it’s part of their leisure time. Film-seekers probably won’t buy popcorn and coke. They want to see a specific title. The risk is that we have too many releases in the same week, so quantity becomes more important than quality, it seems. We may be losing the film seekers, we may be losing them to home cinema. More power to the cinema.

What advice would you give to someone who seeks a career in cinema?

Be very flexible and open-minded, you have all kinds of visitors. You have to love your customer! The hours in our business are a disadvantage, but they also give you a lot of freedom. Every day is different. I really hope I can finish my career in the cinema business. If they can keep making movies with Sylvester Stallone, there must be a place for an old man in a cinema in Belgium.

Frank Smismans

Head of Sheduling Planning VMMa Television

What is your background?

In 1988, I got the chance to join some colleagues to launch the first Flemish commercial television channel, VTM, and I have been there ever since. Now I am the supervisor of the programme scheduling team – I supervise the team of broadcast controllers, “la régie finale” of what is aired. I like to say I’m one of the last Mohicans: we started with fifteen persons more than twenty years ago, now we are about 450 people. I am one of the last survivors from the beginning. I survived all changes.

What is scheduling?

For each channel we have a programme schedule that we get from the programme direction; the scheduler makes the playlist with all the information necessary to go on air and get a seamless broadcast. It’s where content meets the technology.

What is the best part of your job?

TV is constantly evolving, which means the job never becomes a routine. Competition between channels means viewers always want something new. Strategic planning is a competition with other channels – it can be an adrenaline bomb. For example breaking news can change everything. And we need to adjust better and faster than our competitors. This makes it interesting. That’s what I like. It’s like a good movie, you can’t see in the beginning in which direction the plot is going.

How do you see the industry evolving?

Sometimes people say “television is dead”. But I think it’s more alive than ever. The time when you had to go home to watch TV is gone, now you take television with you on your mobile, your Ipad, your laptop. Video-on-demand and new technologies, makes television indispensible. The bouquet of products a media company can offer to viewers is still growing. The future is bright.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in this job?

I really can’t see myself work in a different sector. I wanted to make television since I was ten. As a kid I made movies and tried to learn about television. When I first entered a studio, it was like entering a new universe.

Florian Wieder

Independent Production Designer, Germany

When I was sixteen or seventeen, I went to a Prince concert. I was impressed by the show and the design. It had a huge New York street environment and stuff appeared suddenly in different places. It got stuck in my mind. And so I moved into design, started looking into theatre, to learn how you can turn a story into a visual image.

Working on the side, I ended up doing ten commercials for Porsche. That’s how I got into the industry. A lot of private networks were launched in Germany around this time and wanted to make something different and I got involved. I have to say I really, really had a lot of luck.

Ten years later Simon Cowell called me when he launched X Factor. He had seen German Idol and he liked my work on it and thought it was different from what designers did in the UK. This led to MTV and more and bigger international productions like the Video Music Awards.

What is the best part of your job?

Easy – I really like working in a small group of people, a small creative team. When you start on a project, it’s like a game of ping-pong. It doesn’t matter who has the best idea, you try to find it as a group. It’s a very exciting process.

But there are two exciting moments. The other is when the live show starts. Everything comes together and it’s not about planning any more but it’s live. And it gets filled with life. This is when you really get a sense if what I made is good or doesn’t work. To see it live is an amazing moment.

How do you see your professional future?

Very difficult question, I have never had a plan. Everything has happened so unexpectedly. I believe in television; there will always be more shows, no matter if it’s broadcast or on the internet. People want to be entertained.

Many people are concerned about the development of the industry, that it’s a shrinking market, and money has to be shared with the internet. But I do a lot of different stuff. I take different directions and I can bring new perspectives. It’s a new set of tools that can be used in new ways and it could not have been done fifteen years ago.

Samir Singh

Community Development Officer, Arsenal in the Community, UK

I was born around Highbury (the old Arsenal Stadium). I am also the curator of the Arsenal museum. I want to improve the area. A lot of us are from here too. Two-thirds of us [working at Arsenal] have come through the community program. We want to help the same children that we used to be ourselves. And I have been an Arsenal season ticket holder for 18 years!

What is the best part of your job?

I don’t feel like I’ve done a days work in nine years (although I do work very hard!). I am very lucky. I help impriove my own community.

What is the worst part of your job?

When we visit a school after Arsenal lost a game, everybody wants to know why we lost. I am not the manager, don’t ask me! (laughs)

How do you see your professional future?

I want to stay here and work for Arsenal.

How do you see the industry surrounding football evolving?

Football clubs as brands are becoming more attractive to investors, fans, sponsors and local residents. It’s becoming more and more a globalized business. At the same time, we want to be seen as good neighbours. We try to be local as football becomes global.

Would you work in a different field if it paid better?

I don’t do this for money. I love waking up for work, a lot of my friends don’t.

What if you could play for Arsenal?

I dream of it! That is the only job that could possibly be better.

Stefano Mauri

Publisher, Mauri Spagnol, Italy

I graduated in Italian literature in 1983 but I always had a particular curiosity about technology. In my final thesis I stated that “it is early to imagine how the mass diffusion of PCs and ICT will change the way we write and we read, but it will surely have a great impact”. This is a sentence that few could understand at the time, and yet is so obvious today. I am the chairman of Gruppo editoriale Mauri Spagnol, one of the most important Italian publishing groups. Scouting for the best authors and launching them has become our main pride and area of excellence.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of our job is when a new talent we have scouted for, an original and strong voice that we launched in the rich and crowded publishing arena, exceeds our expectations. We change the life of a person, the author. He is encouraged to continue writing for the joy of his readers. Revenues coming from advances and royalties help him or her to dedicate more time to writing. Success produces a virtuous cycle enabling us to invest in scouting for new talents and marketing them. We ‘earn’ time in this way as well, for better long-term planning; to experiment with more new authors; and gain more credibility among booksellers and readers.

How do you see your professional future?

My professional future is very challenging. Not because of the digital revolution but for the big crisis we are experiencing in our country also in terms of internal demand. It is quite clear that digital may potentially improve publishers’ offer: it could enable them to offer consumers better books at a cheaper price in a digital format but it can also undermine the publishing economy in two ways, through monopolies and piracy. Trade book publishing is still a world where ideas count more than money. It has always had low margins. It does not take much to push even the best publishers below the profit line. In the past three years Italian trade book publishing has gone down by 16%. Enough to make 10% of bookstores close or become unable to pay on time for the books they bought. Bookselling has been declining also in supermarkets. In the digital market, piracy and monopolies are a real risk for readers and creativity if rules are not clear and observed. This is a threat to the independence of creators and hence to the freedom to read.

How do you see the industry evolving?

Much of how the industry will evolve depends on the legal and enforcement framework, which the governing institutions will build around the new digital cultural market. It can either be business and short- term oriented or it can account for the basic needs for this industry and freedom of expression to flourish in the long term: the right of creators to earn from what they do and hence be independent from others; and the need for a pluralist environment for publishers and professional writers so that consumers can have a varied choice. The E-book is a great cultural opportunity for all: authors, publishers, booksellers and readers. But the market might as well become a poorer place, unable to sustain livelihoods if piracy or monopolies prevail. The development of digital technology is partly expanding the possibilities of readers but it is also partly narrowing their perspective.