Justine and Lauren’s path to HETV Success

Posted 21 June 2024

We spoke to Justine Leahy and Lauren Marks about their experiences on the ScreenSkills HETV: Building Your Career Portfolio programme, delivered by Media Trust, and how it has prepared them for a future career in HETV (high-end television).

This programme is supported by the ScreenSkills High-end TV Skills Fund with contributions from UK high-end TV productions. 

Tell us a little about your career to date and aspirations to work in high-end television (HETV)? 

Justine: “For the last decade, I have been working as a Line Producer in unscripted television, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some incredible productions, including those with budgets over a million per episode, across a variety of formats. I have managed productions in high-risk locations and on shows with very complex compliance, legal, and duty of care requirements. 

My career journey began as a receptionist, and I worked my way up through production in commercials, music promos, indie films, and feature films. I even won a BAFTA for producing a short film! While in Scotland for an independent feature film project that didn’t pan out financially, I fell in love with the country and decided to settle down. I transitioned to working on unscripted studio shows, and for the past ten years, I’ve been line producing larger, more intricate productions while raising a family. Now that my children are older, I’m eager to pivot back into drama in Scotland.” 

Lauren: “I have been working in production management in unscripted television for around ten years, moving up from production secretary to production manager. I have always had an interest in working in scripted television, but it seemed like a whole other kettle of fish. Without any contacts in that world, it felt impossible to explore. It wasn’t until I came across some of the ScreenSkills courses that I realised it might be something I could pursue.” 

Each session helped build my confidence!

Photo of Lauren Lauren

You took part in ScreenSkills HETV: Building your Career Portfolio programme. How do you feel the programme supported you? 

Justine: “HETV is a different industry to unscripted television, so it was vital to start to understand the landscape and how to bridge across and apply the skills I have, alongside identify knowledge gaps. The masterclasses on how to market your skills and rebrand yourself for HETV were all very practical and based on real experience. The programme also meant carving out focused time to rebuild my CV, supported by industry professionals who gave really useful feedback. The face-to-face networking with industry professionals was helpful to build my network and understand what they look for.” 

Lauren: “The programme was extremely helpful in making the transition from entertainment to HETV seem less daunting. Each session helped build my confidence that it was achievable with perseverance and dedication. The personal advice on our CVs, rather than just general advice for the group, was greatly beneficial. Listening to and speaking with Line Producers and Production Managers who attended the training days was really informative.” 

What have you learnt from the programme? 

Justine: “I now have a clear understanding of the pathway to becoming a Line Producer in HETV. Stepping back to Production Manager is vital to bridge into the industry while I gain more experience and learn the ropes. I am actively building networks on LinkedIn and using IMDb to identify key people in the industry. I am also watching out for industry networking events to make further connections.” 

Lauren: “I learnt that it isn’t a scary, unreachable world – quite a few people have made the move have made the move across from factual and entertainment television to now have successful careers in HETV.” 

I now have a clear understanding of the pathway to becoming a Line Producer in HETV

Selfie of Justine Justine

Where are you in your career now? 

Justine: “I am currently a Production Manager on a docu-drama. This position serves as a helpful building block for a role in high-end television. I manage the drama budget, overseeing the production of a BBC prime time history series. Each episode spans different historical periods, totalling approximately thirty minutes of drama shot over eight days. With a cast of around forty, complete with period costumes, hair and makeup (including wigs, mustaches and beards), special effects and explosions, filming occurs across various historic locations. My responsibilities include pre-production elements such as scripting, script breakdown, costing, and forecasting, advising the director and production team on potential savings, and collaborating on scheduling with the director and first assistant director. Additionally, I handle crewing, negotiations establishing financial systems for cash flow, and more.” 

Lauren: “I recently completed a placement on the crime drama series Grace. The Grace team was so nice and welcoming. I had asked to shadow them for a week during their prep time as well as a week of shooting, as both were equally important to learn about, although I was aware these could be two of their busiest weeks. Despite that, they asked me what I would like to learn to close any knowledge gaps and made a point of going through everything with me. I was shown how to use Set Keeper and Team Engine and was given tasks to put this new knowledge into practice. I compiled a few daily progress reports in the first week of filming, which was good experience. Just being in the production office and hearing some of the conversations about day-to-day working was incredibly helpful in picking up information regarding hours, pre-calls, overtime, and other issues.” 

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