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BBC One | MATT TILLER

Will the Bullshit Hit The Fan?

 

‘It’s not what you know, but who you know and who you can bullshit.’

Is this the mantra that has launched me into the stratospheric position I occupy now? Yes. If you follow my advice, you too could be nominated for a regional Royal Television Society award and, eventually, even win one. Actually, Absolutely Fine, the online series I produced with Tom Rosenthal for Comedy Central has just been nominated for a Broadcast Digital Award . Things are on the up.

I’ve never really liked the ‘it’s not what you know’ line because it doesn’t reflect the work someone put in to make those contacts and get themselves noticed. Sure, there are a few people who are so well connected they’d have to vomit on the shoes of every significant person they met to fail, but for most of us creating those connections is all part of the journey. Don’t stop believing etc.

But this blog is not about that, it’s about bullshit. How far should you twist the truth in a career situation? There are times when I’ve claimed to have more knowledge or skills than I really did. I never exactly lied, but maybe I was a little economical with the truth. Or generous with the ever so slightly inaccurate.

You have to tread the line of credibility so you don’t come across like a bullshitter — and I have met a few — knowing that, if offered the job, you can do it. Otherwise your bullshit will land you in the shit which will then splatter upwards hitting a fan revolving at high speed and you’ll have a big load of shitty egg on your face as well as being sat in a big, miserable pile of it. An absolute shitfest. And that’s not what I want for you.

There’s one moment that sticks out for me at a crucial, or it seemed it at the time, point in my career.  I decided to leave the bright, seaside lights of Plymouth, where I’d been working as a Researcher then Assistant Producer (AP) at Two Four on seminal productions such as Westcountry TV’s short-lived Mad About Shoppingand BBC One’s short-lived daytime show What Would You Do?and head for the bright, smoggy lights of London to work on Living TV’s highbrow, yet cruelly short-lived, offering Relationship SOS. What do you mean, you haven’t seen it?

Relationship SOS was a studio show featuring people with personal issues who were given advice by a panel of experts. We’d then see how the advice worked by filming the participants at home or an appropriate location before they later returned to the studio to discuss how it had worked.

I had to apply for the job first, of course, and being just a young boy from the Westcountry trying to make his way in the big smoke was a bit daunted — it’s kinda Dick Whittington meets a budget Nathan Barley. So, when I was invited to an interview for an AP role, I was incredibly excited.

At the interview I discovered the producers needed people with DV (Digital Video) skills — the ability to shoot these VT insertsas well find and book the participants. Now, while I had picked up and played with a camera and been on plenty of shoots watching directors and camera operators work, I’d never really shot or directed anything. In the interview one of the producers said something like, ‘Your DV skills will come in very handy.’ In my head I was thinking, ‘Er, what DV skills?’ But, desperate to make my mark in low budget daytime television, I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’

Amazingly, I got the job; a three month contract in London. I was convinced I’d be found out within seconds and ignominiously shoved on the next train from Paddington back to Plymouth with my tail between my over-stretched legs. In a bid to prevent that humiliation, I borrowed a camera and sound gear (as I’d have to be doing both), took advice from anyone I knew who’d ever shot or directed anything and practiced. I had one weekend to gain those much vaunted ‘DV skills.’

Somewhere in my disorganised archives, there’s a funny picture of me holding a camera but I couldn’t find it, so here’s a pic of me about the same age looking ridiculous with a cocktail and sporting ineffective facial hair…

In the end you’ll be relieved to know, dear reader, that it all turned out okay. I mean, the show was absolute bobbins but somehow I managed to scrape through. By throwing myself into it and doing as much preparation as I could, the unravelling was averted. In fact, and this is a bit trumpet-blowy (while being entirely aware that I wasn’t quite following in the path of Spielberg), the producers told me I’d made the best VTs across the series. My fear of coming a cropper in the big city abated. Bravo’s Future Fighting Machines, Channel 4’s Bare & Breakfast and of course Channel 5’s Shaving Ryan’s Privatesall lay ahead on my glittering career path…

So, yes, bullshit to your hearts content. As long as you’re prepared to put in the work needed to get away with it.

By the way, this is part one of a series of two blogs about bullshit. The next will be about why you shouldn’t bullshit for anyone else…

 

1 I made a pitch for the theme tune… ‘We’re just hopping / BONKERS / mad about shopping.’ Sadly, it was not picked up but I’m suing Dizzee Rascal as he clearly stole the idea.  Can’t remember what the chosen theme was, but mine would definitely have been better and turned the show into a massive ratings hit.

2 Theme tune pitch (sing to a jaunty melody) ‘Ooh, ooh, I’m in a stew / What Would You Do-ooooh?’

VT stands for Video Tape and is still used to describe short filmed items that are then played into a studio show – such as news reports, ‘sideways looks’ at something or other on The One Show or cringeworthy attempts at topical comedy on The Daily Politics.

4 That one’s not on my CV and I can’t quite remember if that was the title, but I definitely went to Naples (well, an industrial estate in a Naples suburb) to shoot footage for the programme, a one-off ‘documentary’ about pornographic remakes of Hollywood blockbusters. I was filming behind the scenes of a remake of Cleopatra, cue shot after shot of hilarious items obscuring intimate parts. Oh dear. It was, naturally, a huge ratings success.

Cheats Sometimes Prosper

Unlike the clandestine crime fighting unit in the BBC One drama or Charley Boorman moving around the world, but without Ewan McGregor, I don’t like to achieve my goals ‘by any means.’  What I’m saying is that I’m not a psychopath.  I like to think that I’ve reached the dizzying heights of moderate accomplishment without screwing people over.  And most people I’ve met in the industry are the same.  Having said that I’ve not met loads at the very, very top.  They’re probably all total bastards.

However, sometimes you have to be a little bit cheeky, embellish the truth a little or sometimes, I guess, cheat.  Just a little.  While the cat’s away the mice will up-sell their skill set.  There are a couple of times in my career that spring to mind, but here’s one from my very early days…

It was my interview for the Post Graduate Diploma in Broadcast Journalism at Falmouth College of Art.  This was a very important day.  Having narrowly failed to make it onto the BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme my career was looking pretty much non-existent unless I could get a place on the course.  It was very competitive with thousands applying for about thirty places.1   And I wanted this as much as an X Factor or The Voice contestant wants to get to the live shows.

On the day of the interview one element of the process was a written test.  I think it was a series of general knowledge and current affairs questions, but with a few specifically about broadcasting.  I was given the test sheet, but told that there was quite a long wait for the interview – it must have been at least an hour or so – and I was allowed to wander off. So I did.  Sheet in hand I headed to the college canteen.  I knew most of the answers, but there were a couple of broadcasting questions that I had no idea about and I feared that this could be the crucial knowledge gap that would send me back across the Cornwall/Devon border empty handed.

In the canteen I managed to find some students (I know, a difficult mission in a college). Importantly they were doing the BA in Journalism and they had the answer.  They were absolutely certain   I can’t remember exactly what the question was, but something like who was the first director general of the BBC2 or something to do with regional radio or television franchises.

I’ll never know whether or not getting that answer correct tipped the balance in my favour.  Probably all the work experience I’d done was the main factor in getting a place, but I’m sure it didn’t do any harm.  And I like to think that tracking down the students with the answer to the question was me showing the kind of skills needed to be a successful journalist.  It was just research.  I’m sure my old tutors Colin Caley and Guy Pannell will forgive me for what I have done.  Getting a place at Falmouth was the thing that really got my career started.  They can’t do to me what they did to the banks over PPI can they?  You can’t take it all back now.  You can take away those episodes of Mad About Shopping for Westcountry TV3 I worked on, but you can never take my freedom…

1 I have no idea if that’s true, but a lot of people did apply.

2 I realise I should have known this. I do now, obviously. Who was it? I’m not going to tell you. You’ve got the internet and all your smart phones and iPads, which we didn’t have back then so I’m being a right miserable old git about it.

3 This series about the retail industry in the region was possibly the worst show I’ve been involved in. I was a researcher.  We had a laugh making it though.