A Foot in the Door: Taking Part in the Edinburgh TV Festival’s TV PhD Training Scheme

This latest guest blog post comes from Juliette Irretier, a PhD candidate in Film & TV Stuidies and Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Glasgow. She gives us a review of the training event TV PhD, put on as part of the Edinburgh TV Festival. As well as being of interest to anyone interested in getting into the TV industry, it addresses the dreaded subject of what to do post-PhD and how to make the move into industry.

It is one of the questions that PhD students dread the most: ‘So what do you want to do after your PhD?’ For many of us, especially in the Arts and Humanities, the future can feel very vague due to the lack of certainty in academic jobs and on the job market as a whole (needless to say that Covid didn’t exactly help with this). Transferring from academia to industry is especially challenging because there are very few overlaps between the two, and specific advice on how to proceed with a career beyond university is rare.

In the screen industries, to complicate matters, jobs are often allocated on a who-knows-who basis. When I started to put out feelers to an entry-level film job in my mid-twenties, I kept hearing: ‘You just have to get a foot in the door, and then you’ll be fine.’ And I thought, ‘Sounds straightforward enough. But how? I don’t even see any doors so how am I supposed to know where to put my feet?’ Determined to find a way in, I applied at the film festival in Hamburg, Germany, where I lived at the time. And, lo and behold, they gave me a job! Five years later, I had worked different jobs at various film festivals in Germany and Scotland, been a floor runner for a feature film production and felt quite confident regarding my professional future in the film industry.

Due to digital technology, television has evolved from a static screen and a pre-set programme to a versatile powerhouse of creativity.
Photo: ‘Vintage television’, Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash.

Television, however, remained the area of the screen industries that I couldn’t quite crack: I had always been attracted by the glamour of big feature films so that was what I wanted to do (The Lord of the Rings is responsible for this). To my younger self, television (unjustly so!) was small-scale entertainment for niche audiences, dependent on this old-fashioned apparatus that is a television set (I did grow up watching telly with my parents every Saturday night with only five regional TV channels, you see). Only recently, I fully grasped the enormous power given to television by digital media and online distribution and realised that I wanted to be part of this ever-changing, multi-faceted, massively growing sector. Again, I saw myself confronted with the question, ‘But how?’

The answer came to me in November 2019, at an industry event hosted by the Department of Film & Television Studies at the University of Glasgow, where I had started my research the year before. Campbell Glennie, now the Managing Director of the Edinburgh TV Festival, kindly visited the University to inform graduates-to-be about The Network, a talent scheme for developing skills in TV-making. After the session, he told me about another training opportunity, TV PhD, and I immediately knew that I was going to apply. Finally, there it was: an actual chance to fill the gap in my professional repertoire regarding television. What is more, the TV PhD talent scheme is a much-needed intersection between academia and the creative industries, promoting collaborations between two worlds that so infrequently coincide – but that can learn so much from one another.

A few months later, I find myself in my armchair, attending interactive Zoom sessions with the 14 other TV PhD delegates from various subject areas at higher education institutions all over the UK. In line with the hands-on mentality of television production, we are thrown in at the deep end with a development workshop led by Nutopia, the production company behind Netflix’s The Last Czars and The World According to Jeff Goldblum on Disney+. Our task is to write a two-page summary of an idea for a TV show, based upon which some of us will then be selected to pitch their idea to commissioners as a live session during the Edinburgh TV Festival. Wow!

Up until now, I had not considered research or development for television as a possible area of work and had been unaware of how many transferable skills academic researchers possess. Positively surprised to discover that research for university and for television are actually not that different, the workshop and the overall TV PhD programme left me feeling enthusiastic and encouraged. Having shared this experience with other PhD candidates who are equally passionate about television and being valued with our research and the individual skill sets that we can contribute to the industry means so much. As Ayesha Taylor-Camara, a member of the first TV PhD cohort in 2018, wrote on the AHRC blog, TV PhD does not only bridge the gap between academia and industry and explains how the TV industry works but, by pointing out concrete job roles, gives a clear indication of where one’s place could be in it.

It is the last week of August and I am watching the live stream of the Edinburgh TV Festival, which takes place entirely online this year. Time for the TV PhD Live Pitch, and how exciting to be presenting my idea as part of a compelling festival programme that presents a diverse range of online sessions and voices from commissioners, channel controllers, production companies and actors. Following the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, #BlackLivesMatter and climate change, it is inspiring to see how the TV industry leaps at the opportunity for innovation. As viewing behaviour and the audience’s demands change more than ever, television must pull out all its creative stops to bring about an evolution in talent and content. From providing escapism to addressing contemporary socio-political issues: diversity and inclusivity are at the top of the Festival’s and the TV industry’s agenda. Following David Olusoga’s powerful MacTaggart Lecture at the start of the Festival, the need for positive change in the industry is undeniable.

As the Festival comes to an end, my mind is blown with new impressions, names, faces, content, things that need to be done! TV PhD and the Edinburgh TV Festival have shown me how open-minded, welcoming and supportive the TV industry can be. Suddenly, I see so many doors in which I would like to put my feet and I am determined not to lose this momentum, hoping for further collaboration with the TV industry and more input and perspective in the months to come.

Biographical Information

Juliette Irretier is a PhD candidate in Film & TV Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Glasgow, where she started her research in October 2018. She was educated in German and English Philology at the University of Göttingen, Germany, before completing an MA in Digital Culture & Society at King’s College London. She has since worked in event management, text editing and at film festivals in Germany and Scotland. Her research focuses on geopolitical issues of screen tourism in the context of inner-European politics, using Outlander (2014-) as the main case study and exploring questions of escapism, place-based identity, national imagery and the tourist imagination. Juliette would like to dedicate her professional life to bridging the gap between academia and the screen industries, developing interdisciplinary and international collaboration.

Juliette’s PhD project is funded by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) through an AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship and by the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts through a Postgraduate Scholarship.



AHRC blog entry by Ayesha Taylor-Camara, member of the first TV PhD cohorthttps://ahrc-blog.com/2020/08/20/bridging-the-gap-between-academia-and-industry/
David Olusoga’s 2020 James MacTaggart Lecture on YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XALf10024r8  
Edinburgh TV Festivalhttps://www.thetvfestival.com/
The Networkhttps://www.thetvfestival.com/talent-schemes/the-network/
TV PhDhttps://www.thetvfestival.com/talent-schemes/tv-phd/

Would you like to write a blog for us? Email Neil.Ackerman@glasgow.ac.uk

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