Tell us about your documentary, First Heartbeat – how did it come about?
After I had my third miscarriage I went headlong into research to try to find out why it had happened and also to see if I could prevent it from happening again. It was such a shock, my third one, as the previous two were a long time ago and I had shrugged them off. But with the third one I really thought I was going to have a baby. I found out, through my experience and stories of others I met in an online support group, that treatment when you’re miscarrying can really be quite shoddy. I decided to turn the camera on myself to document my experience but also to try to find some answers as to why miscarriage might happen and how it can be prevented.
You are an experienced journalist/reporter – what was it like turning the camera on yourself an becoming the story?
For the first few years after training as a broadcast journalist I was a radio presenter and I’ve always found radio is such a personal medium; there’s no-one to hide behind and you develop quite a personal relationship with your audience. So being ‘myself’ has always been a big part of my work. In some way turning the camera on myself also helped me process what was going on. Seeing my miscarriages through an objective eye almost made it easier to bear. Not that any of it was easy.
During production you ran a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign – why did you decide to go down that route rather than pitch to commissioners?
I will be honest, it wasn’t that I decided to go down the crowdfunding route for any reason, it was just I was having a hard time getting anything agreed with any commissioners! I spoke to a few people who all said yes it’s a brilliant idea but then things fizzled out. I realised I would probably be better off making it myself. The lack of support, difficulty in finding treatment and the emotional isolation of miscarriage can be life-changing for some people and I felt it was so important the documentary was made and could possibly help open some sort of conversation. If more people were aware of how common it is perhaps it wouldn’t be such a shock when it happens to you.
What did you learn through running the campaign?
The whole filmmaking experience – from the Kickstarter campaign onwards – has been like a documentary masterclass for me. Although I have produced and directed and presented films (high end corporate films and also self-shot travel films for the national press) for many years I knew nothing about making documentaries. I initially asked for what I now know is a very small sum of money – around £4000 – on Kickstarter and was lucky enough to reach this. However I soon realised this would go nowhere in helping fund the documentary. It did however pay for a good teaser which was enough to open some doors.
What opened the most doors however was getting onto the WFTV Mentoring scheme. It was through my mentor that I met Ruth Pitt who became executive producer on the film and her vast experience and enthusiasm for the project meant people started to take me more seriously. It was also another fantastic masterclass in terms of Documentary Making A-Z. With my fellow mentees I went to Sheffield Doc/Fest and it was there that I really started to realise what was involved in the documentary side of things.
You’ve just got a commission on TLC UK – how did that come about?
It was at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2014 that I first met Sarah Thornton, who commissioned the documentary for TLC. I was struck by what she said during one of the panels about the channel and her passion for the programmes she was commissioning She had thought long and hard about what direction she wanted to take the channel in and I felt that the documentary would be a good fit for this. Ruth Pitt and I tracked her down afterwards and the conversation started. It took several months of going back and forth but in April 2015 they said they wanted to commission it. Their excitement and enthusiasm for the documentary has been incredible. We’ve now teamed up with October Films and are going to be editing over the summer.
What tips do you have for anyone who wants to pitch their independent documentary?
It’s not easy, that’s for sure. I think it’s important however to bear in mind that broadcasters need content and if you have a good idea and you show you can put it together, or can team up with the right people to put it together, they might well want your content. There’s a lot of TV time that needs filling, if you have something good then hopefully the right person will find you or you will find them. Keep going. And as my lovely old Nan used to say – believe in yourself.
With hindsight, is there anything that you’d do differently?
I would probably take advice from my Nan myself and try to believe in myself a bit more! The WFTV mentoring scheme helped highlight how we (and often women are more guilty of this) often fail to acknowledge our achievements. I’ve spent a long time feeling like I was the ‘new girl’ in every industry I’ve worked in – possibly because I’ve done a bit of production, a bit of presenting, a bit of writing, a bit of filming and now a bit of documentary making. However, now I look back, I have a good 20 years of ‘bits’ behind me, which adds up to a whole lot of experience. People who have seen the documentary keep telling me I am such a natural on camera, which is lovely to hear. I try to smile and accept it but to be honest I’ve spent 20 years learning how to be ‘a natural’. Trying and failing sometimes, trying and advancing at other times. I keep having to remind myself that even though this is my first documentary I am not by any means a novice.