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Our Featured TM Pro Member today is Jon Clemens-Mann, Development Producer.

Why did you decide the Development route was where you wanted to work?

I’ve always been the creative type, fascinated by the world around me. When I was a kid, at a café or on a bus, I’d always used to make up stories about the people around me, imagining they were harbouring a salacious secret, or had a unique story to be told. I really wanted to find a channel for that creativity. And what better than unscripted TV?

But it’s more than just telling untold stories. For me, it’s the way in which their stories are told. So developing a format through which we tell people’s own personal stories – however bonkers it is – is such a satisfying process. Especially when you see an idea from the initial spark – whether that’s a title, a stat or top line, to its appearance on screen.

There’s also an incredible amount of variety. One day you could be working on a sensitive access-based documentary series – the next, an audacious fact ent adventure show with whacky challenges and outrageous contribs.

My brain is constantly whirring and thinking about things – I’m never off duty – so the fact that there’s always space to originate something new and fresh, means I can. So when I’m having a shower in the morning and a random idea pops into my head (which it invariably does at the most inopportune moments), I can mould it into something sellable fairly quickly.

While production is great to get your head down and really live, breathe and sleep a single project, the fact that I can have up to fifty projects on the go at any one time (and the rest), excites me immensely.

How did you get into Development?

Prior to TV, I worked in sales for a French property investment company (random, I know) – but I found that the marketing side of it – designing brochures, writing the sell, was the bit of the job I was best at.

But I always knew that I wanted to work in TV – although I had no idea how to get into the industry. At one point I wrote to Nick Broomfield (as I loved his documentaries), who invited me down to his lovely home to talk to me about how to start a TV career. I ended up giving up my job to study broadcast journalism.

I then got into TV through the Channel 4 Production Trainee Scheme, run by the incredible organisation Think Bigger – who still do amazing work in getting people from underrepresented backgrounds into the television industry.

I was paired with Raise the Roof productions – no doubt thanks to my property expertise. Whilst there, I managed to experience all areas of production, but it was the development side that really attracted me.

I later realised that it wasn’t my property experience that worked well for Raise the Roof – but the fact that I used to work in sales.

Development is, after all, a sales role. Because it’s no good to think of a great idea – you need to sell it. And that’s where the key to being a good developer is.

How did you learn to be a Development Producer? What skills do you need?

As with everything in TV, much of it is learning on the job. Very quicky I discovered that there’s no such thing as a stupid idea, and that you really need to think outside the box.

My favourite development tool is super high-tech – a pad of post-it notes and a wall. You can do so many things with post-it notes, from checking that the mechanics actually work, to changing around the order of mechanics to transform a straightforward format into something that’s fresh and alive.

One of the most important things you need to have to work in development is resilience. The vast majority of ideas pitched get shut down – but nine times out of ten it’s not because it’s a bad idea – but more that something in that space has just been commissioned, or that they tried something in the vague space a number of years ago and the broadcaster has got cold feet about revisiting the territory.

It's hard though – especially when starting out – when an idea that you’ve slogged your guts out over, agonised over the format, slaved over a poster, and spent hours brainstorming a catchy title gets shot down before you’ve finished the first line of your pitch. But you get used to it. And, as with most things, ideas are cyclical, and they can be revisited at another time.

You also need to think outside the box. Because all development teams are reading the same articles online and getting the same stats from the Today programme. So even if your idea is in the same territory as another, it will stand out if it’s been formatted in an unusual and bold way.

Finding new sources of materials is always a good idea. What are the weird and wonderful forums that exist that could provide excellent fodder for idea generation? What hasn’t been reported in the Mail Online?

You also have to be organised. You are working on dozens of ideas at any one time, so you need to set yourself deadlines, and keep track of your meetings.

But it’s not just about thinking of new ideas. You need to be adept at putting together decks, sizzles and tasters. After all, TV is a visual medium, so words are rarely enough. Sometimes all it takes to get an idea is an arresting poster that sells the idea without any words.

Finally – you need to be able to sell. You can have the best idea, but if it can’t be sold in a couple of lines, then you won’t get it away.

What kinds of programmes do you work on?

The joy of my job is that there are no limits to the type of programmes I work on. In the past I’ve worked on access pieces, features, reality, fact ent and even specialist factual.

My favourite thing, however, is mixing the genres. If you have access to a certain organisation, how can that be transformed to a compelling fact ent format? Can you elevate a standard features show by throwing in a smattering of specialist factual experiments?

No matter what sort of show it is, for me, the contributors’ stories are always front and centre.

What are the most challenging projects to work on?

Access is always quite tricky. You need to go in with the right approach and build a trusting relationship over a period of months before they’ll sign away access and editorial control. It’s a skill that takes years to perfect – and even once you’ve got access, there’ll be no guarantee that a commissioner will bite.

Other challenges include making an idea bold, new and fresh. The standard is so high that when looking at well-trodden territories like dating, property or survival, it’s never been more important to think about how to transform it for a modern audience.

Now is an incredibly exciting time for developers. During the current lull, it’s a great opportunity for indies to look at their slate and think about which ideas can be shaken up and repackaged into something irresistible.

It’s challenging – but all part of the job!

What would be your advice to someone trying to get into your area of expertise?

I’ve been involved in the hiring of lots of trainees eager to get into the TV industry – and, specifically, development. There is one piece of advice I always give. And it’s simple.

Watch TV!

I’ve lost count of the times that many junior people, sometimes even those who are already in the industry, claim they don’t have time to watch TV, or they only watch Love Island or Line of Duty. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Love Island or Line of Duty. They’re both excellent. But in order to get a broad understanding of what the commissioning landscape is, it’s so important to watch everything on every broadcaster – even if it’s not something you’d usually settle down to.

Every week Talent Manger release a very helpful What to Watch list, which is a great starting point.

Only by watching TV can you get a real feel for different broadcasters’ sensibilities, what is working, and, most importantly for development, what’s missing.

What are you watching right now?

Like most people in development, I have an incredibly eclectic taste when it comes to TV.

Something that I’ve been obsessed by recently is the South Korean adventure show on Netflix, Siren: Survive the Island.

Six teams of uncompromising women with hardcore jobs such as soldiers, firefighters, bodyguards, compete against each other to take over an island. It really has to be seen – but it has everything. It’s SAS on acid! I love it.

Other, more sedate shows I’ve been really enjoying are Jury Duty on Amazon Prime – really clever, and it harks back to some of my favourite shows of all time like My New Best Friend and the Work Experience.

Cause of Death on Channel 5 is a great example of compelling storytelling with extraordinary access.

And I always have to get my canine fix with the Dog House and the Dog Academy on Channel 4. Simple ideas but with very clever format points that make them both stand out against the rest.

Why do you like using Talent Manager?

Talent Manger is a fantastic directory of the best in the business, when it comes to both companies and people.

It’s quick and easy to apply for jobs, as well as reach out to other members. 

And the networking sessions with indies are always very informative and engaging.

In particular, what are the benefits to being a Pro member?

It’s great to be able to track applications in terms of whether your cover letter has been read and CV has been downloaded.

It’s also really useful to see which companies have been looking at your profile, as it gives you an idea of who may be looking for someone with your area of expertise.

It also gives you the chance to upload several CVs so depending on the role you’re applying for, it’s easy to apply with a targeted CV.

Thank you to Jon for chatting to us. He is available for work right now, so check out his TM profile if you are looking for awesome development producers or if you'd like to network and connect with another friendly TM freelancer!

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