Clips, stills and multi-tasking

Clips, stills and multi-tasking

Karen Walsh has over 15 years” experience as a freelance archive producer, working on a broad range of television programmes ranging from Panorama, The 100 Greatest Musicals and The South Bank Show, to feature film documentaries and interactive DVDs.

We spoke to her about what skills you need to succeed as an archive producer.

How did you become an archive producer?

I started out in television as a production secretary at London Weekend Television. I then became a contestant researcher but always loved film, photography and visual things, so moved into doing film research – it”s only recently been called archive research.

What are the main challenges of your role?

The main challenges are hitting deadlines and being adaptable, as programmes can suddenly
change. Most archive producers are freelance, so work on short term contracts, which range from a couple of weeks to 6 months, often working for large broadcasters like ITV and the BBC, and independent production companies. Flexibility is essential as the work culture varies.

What are the most challenging programmes you”ve worked on?

Amusing clip shows in general, when you have to source outtakes, home videos and offbeat comedy content from around the world. You have to think laterally and cold call production companies and other sources. Instead of working to a brief and wish list, you start from nothing.

What are the most enjoyable types of programmes you”ve worked on?

Probably entertainment programmes as generally the people working on more light-hearted subjects are less intense and there is a good sense of teamwork.

How is your job changing?

Decreasing budgets and schedules are having the biggest impact, along with the increase in fast turnaround programmes, and for many productions there is both less time and less money. Digital online access does speed things up but can still have glitches. A lot of archive material still exists on film and tape formats which producers are not aware of. Broadcasters now require more rights, so third party clearances can be difficult as artists don”t always accept Equity rates and licensing rights are more complex.

What key skills do you need to become an archive producer?

Being able to prioritise, excellent organisational skills and being a whizz at multitasking – combining creativity and lateral thinking in sourcing material. You also need a wide knowledge of copyright and clearance procedures and persuasive communication skills.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an archive producer?

I think you only become an archive producer after gaining a lot of experience as an archive researcher, working across a wide range of programme genres, and there is a difference between the two roles. You don”t become an archive producer overnight – there is a lot to learn and mostly this is on the job. Not everyone works across different genres and prefer to specialise in, say, current affairs or arts programmes. I have worked on arts, current affairs, documentaries and all kinds of entertainment programmes and would recommend diversity.

If you could meet a version of yourself right at the start for your career, what”s the one piece of advice you would give yourself?

When you feel the pressure, tell yourself, “It”s only television …”

Share this Article