Genre Masterclass: Factual 2014

Brits make the best factual television in the world, according to Twofour’s Chief Creative Officer, Andrew Mackenzie. During his time in the industry, Mackenzie has been responsible for delivering some of Britain’s most successful factual programming, from Educating Essex and Splash! to more controversial programmes, such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

“You have to have a thick skin to work in factual,” Mackenzie told his interviewer, ITV Commissioning Editor Katy Thorogood, and an audience of aspiring producers at the factual session of the RTS Student Programme Masterclasses. His 2009 series Boys and Girls Alone received a slew of complaints and was investigated by Ofcom, which, ultimately, ruled that the safeguards put in place by the producers had been sufficient.

While Mackenzie’s work has often shocked audiences, it has also moved them. Few could forget the moving scene in Educating Yorkshire where Mr Burton has a breakthrough with stuttering student Musharaf, who, in turn, went on to star in his own Channel 4 documentary.

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Taking risks

Educating Yorkshire’s precursor, Educating Essex, was Mackenzie’s first experience of working with a fixed rig. And installing such a massive infrastructure was a big risk for Twofour, one that could have bankrupted the company. “You’re putting 70 cameras into a location where you’re not sure you’re going to get any documentary activity at all,” said Mackenzie, who worried that he could end up with a series of boring maths lessons.

The key to making a successful show, said Mackenzie, is to surround yourself with brilliant people: “If you’re surrounded by mediocrity, it’s going to be mediocre.”

Breaking into the industry

Identifying where you want to work in the industry is a good place to start, Mackenzie advised. After graduating with a degree in Sports Psychology, he took a postgraduate diploma in broadcast journalism, eventually giving up a job in radio to work for free on one of his favourite sports shows on television.

“I don’t know, in the current climate, how I would do what I did,” said Mackenzie of his route into television production. He blamed an increase in the number of media graduates coupled with a freeze on the number of vacancies.

“It’s a lot harder for your generation than it was for mine,” confessed Mackenzie. He said he believed it was important to be honest about employment prospects, but “good people who are persistent and make themselves indispensable do break through”.

The Masterclass was produced by Helen Scott and was held at the BFI on 27 October.

Report by Pippa Shawley

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