TBI Weekly: Why keeping busy during the downturn could lead to 2024 success

Miss Holland

Miss Holland

While we wait for the industry to bounce back, indies could benefit from leaning into new experiences in 2024 and embracing sector support, says Eline van der Velden, founder of Particle6 Productions.

This has been a tough year for everybody in the industry and few have been immune. From global streamers and local broadcasters to actors, writers, freelance crew and independent producers, there’s been a lot of unemployment, cloth-cutting and shuttered or delayed production – all accompanied by a general wringing of hands and shaking of heads. And if we are to believe everything we read, despite some green shoots, 2024 probably won’t be any easier.

For smaller indies in particular, the current lack of cash and commissions in the UK can feel totally overwhelming. But let’s face it, even before the recent downturn – and of course the pandemic – you’d have been hard-pressed to find more than a handful of indies saying everything was brilliant. Making TV – and making money – is hard work, especially in a constantly evolving sector. But in recent years, I’ve learned that there are two things that can really make a difference. One is your own outlook, useful of course in any walk of life – and the other is leaning into the wealth of support available in the industry.

During downtime in the pandemic, I applied for two programmes that look to support indies as they grow: Pact’s Future30 and Creative UK’s Female Founders’ scheme. I was accepted to both, and looking back it really was the best thing I could have done – both for me personally and the business. Without wishing to sound too evangelical, the advice, market intelligence, introductions, and general industry knowledge available on these schemes is extraordinary and can really help build your confidence – as well as your business – and give you a competitive edge.

I genuinely believe that our business doubled as a result of these schemes and that our new ‘edge’ helped secure a commission from Sky Kids. Significantly, they also gave us the confidence to try different things – and put us on the path to making further applications. We were subsequently successful in receiving development funding from the Channel 4 Emerging Indie programme as well an Innovate UK Creative Catalyst grant and, fingers crossed, have another such award in the pipeline too.

I’m not sharing any of this to look smug. I just want fellow small-medium sized indies to explore the wonderful range of programmes, grants and funds available and to use any quieter periods to fully interrogate all the opportunities out there, as you never know where they might lead.

Eline Van der Velden

What isn’t always apparent from these programmes is the amazing network it leaves you with too. Firstly, there are all the fabulous course leaders and guest speakers that you get to meet – everyone from financiers and distributors to commissioners and big-name producers – and then there are your fellow cohort members.

These cohorts themselves become an invaluable and enduring source of support, ideas, resources and friendships – making you feel part of something bigger and really shoring you up when you need it. I’m now part of various WhatsApp groups that are always pinging with “does anyone know a good archive producer” or similar. How brilliant that a group of people who may be in competition can also help each other in this way.

I can’t sit still, so the other thing that I did – and still do – while developing ideas and waiting for commissions is to actually get making something! We creatives are not at our best just sitting around. I’m passionate about keeping the joy of producing alive – but it doesn’t have to be a major production each time. Making something small – eg shorts for YouTube – won’t cost a fortune and you never know what might happen as a result. The Miss Holland comedy shorts I made a while back – mostly for fun – turned into a series for BBC Three.

Maybe it’s my science background but I love experimenting and trying new things too. It’s probably heretical to say this in Television Business International – but a TV show isn’t the only thing that will keep your team employed and a roof over your head. We’ve used our creative, storytelling and production skills, plus data-first approach, to also produce commercial videos for brands and music videos for Genshin Impact, one of the most successful names in the gaming world. Such work keeps our skills sharp, and the income flowing in – and, again, you just never know where it will take you. With the content world constantly evolving, becoming increasingly digital and involved with brands, such activity – which to some might seem peripheral now – could soon be core to what we do.

We also used quieter periods earlier this year to interrogate AI and explore how it might be used in the business. This is something we have since fully embraced and by engaging with AI and publicly referencing some of its benefits, I’ve been invited to talk at two major conferences and, as a result, have connected with so many people and have some new doors opening.

So, while we wait for these promised green shoots to blossom and the commission count to increase, make a New Years’ resolution to fully explore the wealth of support available in the industry, go to as many events as possible to build your network – and look around corners to try a few new things to keep your name out there, your skills sharp and money coming in. British indies are the lifeblood of the UK’s content industry and I believe that keeping positive and remaining open to change will ensure that continues.

On the back of a really interesting 2023 for Particle6 Productions, my parting thought has to be don’t always do what you’ve always done – as at the current time, you are unlikely to get what you always got. And I now know from experience that has to be a good thing.

Happy Christmas and here’s to a prosperous 2024!

Eline van der Velden is the founder of UK production company Particle6 Productions, which is behind titles including ‘Miss Holland’ and ‘Gender Bias Riddle’ for BBC Three and ‘Look See Wow!’ for Sky Kids. She started her career in television as a freelance comedy writer and then as a digital producer/director for Endemol Shine, then moved to become MD of the Makers Channel and, after exiting at the time of its acquisition, started Particle6 Productions in 2015.

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