"We've all heard horror stories about awful pitches, but a good approach can be the key to success. Roll VT."
This was it. The result of three months of hard work was about to be broadcast to a roomful of big-hitters. Three of Britain's top talent agents, and two of the industry's most successful producers of on-screen talent were on the panel; Kirsty Wark was chairing the session; Heads Of Production from super-indies, and broadcast commissioners were in the audience. There was probably no gathering of people in the world at that moment that could better distinguish a good VT from a bad one: sound, lighting, editing, framing, performances and rapport - it was all going to be under the spotlight. There was nothing more to do, expect hope that we'd done our best.
The annual Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival is a heady blend of panel sessions, presentations, master-classes and networking (drinking) events for the television industry. It's also a charity, giving young production talent the chance to get ahead in TV. Last year I was lucky enough to be on Ones To Watch, in which 30 "rising stars" of the TV industry were given free delegate passes, and a bespoke programme of training and networking events. Off the back of that, I was given the chance to AP a session at this year's festival.
Miranda Chadwick (Broadcast Agent at ROAR Global) and Tom Beck (Commissioning Editor, Entertainment, at Channel 4) were producing a session called "Speak To My Agent: How To Survive The Talent Wars"; a 60-minute panel session, in which producers and agents would discuss the relationship between on-screen talent and producers - and how best to go about getting talent onto television shows. I'd been asked to look after the VTs of talent, to be used to add anecdotes, context and that "starry-quality" to the session.
After our first meeting, at Roar HQ, I was bricking it, feeling so far out of my depth that I'd left the continental shelf far behind and was now floating aimlessly over the abyss of the deep ocean.
Miranda and Tom were two of the sharpest people that I'd met in TV; Sacha, the other AP doing research and interviews, seemed to know every bit of gossip, deal-making and personality in entertainment television; Kate, the AP looking after background research, arranging interviews and being the glue that held us together, had an organisational and emailing capacity that I didn't think possible.
I'd written a couple of travel documentaries, worked as a researcher and produced corporate videos - what was I doing on a session about agents and commissioning?! I nodded, agreed to everything that was said, made some notes and kept my mouth shut, before spending the next three hours on Wikipedia researching names, production companies and programmes; then another two hours watching VTs from previous festivals.
Over the next few weeks, I was thrown headfirst into the murky world of talent, agents, IP and deal-making, until the whirling mists began to coalesce into some sort of pattern. I could happily get on with what I knew how to do - film VTs and conduct interviews - whilst asking the others what we actually needed to learn.
It was fascinating. When else do you get the chance to have a frank conversation with Nicky Campbell, Jake Humphrey and Al Murray about what they want in pitches and agents? When again could I ask Russell Kane about his inspiration and why he does what he does? With everyone working full-time jobs, I was given the chance to either climb the rope of responsibility or hang myself with it.
The Lord-Of-The-Rings-like train journey to Edinburgh builds the anticipation by passing through some of Britain's most dramatic landscape. Getting off at Waverley St, the vibe is palpable - tourists, performers and promoters throng the streets, pleading for audiences to watch their shows.
The next 48 hours were a wonderful blur: chatting to John Lloyd about QI and Spitting Image; trying to smuggle a giraffe out of the Dave party; attending discussions about YouTube and the TV sector; complimenting Kevin Spacey on his speech; and, of course, our session! Having planned it for so long, I'd almost forgotten that I would learn something from the conversation, and I whipped out my notepad to learn from these industry giants.
It was only as we sat down for our celebratory meal that I reflected on what we'd done. Tom and Miranda told us that the feedback was brilliant - someone even said it was the most useful session of the festival. For me, the ultimate recognition was that Karl Warner, Advisory Chair of the Festival, had emailed Miranda to complement the VTs. Everyone was chuffed that, after months of late nights and several thousand emails, we were looking out over Edinburgh Castle, toasting a job well done.
The celebrations didn't end there, and I gave up on the prospect of sleep until I boarded the 05:40 Flying Scotsman back home for work. As the sun rose behind Arthur's Seat, I reflected on the past few months. There had been plenty of times that I questioned doing extra work for no pay, or couldn't be bothered to craft another saccharine email, or clear my diary for a busy artiste.
But what I'd gained had more than made up for it, and it was only looking back that I realised how far I'd come: I'd learned about whole new areas of TV, from entertainment and factual to agents and comedy; I felt confident talking with CEOs, Heads Of Production and Channel Commissioners in a way that was unimaginable months before; I'd met some of my favourite presenters and performers; I was given a delegate pass to the best event in television; and I'd been given the chance to showcase my work in front of the best in the industry.
And although it sounds like a cliché, the most rewarding element was working closely with a team of four brilliant people. I was repeatedly astounded by their individual skills and competencies, and look forward to staying in touch with them as we each forge our individual paths.
So, if you're ever given the chance to work on a session at the Edinburgh TV Festival, just say yes. You won't regret it. For any further questions, please Speak To My Agent.
For more information about Ones To Watch, visit http://www.geitf.co.uk/onestowatch