by James Fountain
The creator of a series of top television documentary shows, including The Yorkshire Vet, has told students hoping to break into the industry that research is the key to success.
Appearing at the 10th Journalism and Media Week at Leeds Trinity University, Paul Stead spoke candidly about breaking into the highly competitive television industry.
Managing director of Daisybeck for the past 20 years, Paul is most famous for creating the hugely popular show The Yorkshire Vet.
The show is in its seventh series, with regular viewing figures of around 1.6 million.
Paul was insistent the most common failure of those applying to work with him was a lack of understanding about the programmes he was trying to make.
He said: “You wouldn’t be a good baker if you didn’t sample the cakes, would you?
“The number of freelancers who I interview who haven’t actually watched my shows beforehand is unbelievable – how do they know they will enjoy being in my kitchen if they don’t know what I’m cooking?”
Stead described the importance of using natural, ‘ordinary’ people who do not play up to the camera, and of working patiently with them to gain powerful, believable documentary.
His work on Body Donors for Channel 5, which took the audience on the journey of donors’ bodies after death, was a UK TV first, and a classic example of the importance Paul places on engaging with people.
He said: “One of the most important things in making effective documentary TV is to gain people’s trust – I had to get these people to trust me in order to gain access.”
He went on to display a clip from his show The Naked Village, about a nudist colony in the south of England.
He said: “I had to gain access, so I checked in and took my clothes off – this way I gained my subjects’ trust, and in return they let me tell their story.”
Stead spoke of a desperate shortage of editors in the TV industry and he encouraged Leeds Trinity University graduates to apply to join the five alumni already work in his growing company.
But his encouragement came with the caveat: “They need to show through an edit that they understand story-telling – or I’m not interested.”