Creative Director of Wise Owl Films, Mark Robinson
Mark had an extensive 25 year career at ITV Studios in both Leeds and Newcastle, including the creation of Shiver in 2007 (ITV Studios’ first label) before founding Wise Owl Films, which is part of Lime Pictures, in 2018. We talked to him to find out more about his experience in the industry.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day is largely split between ‘selling’ ideas to various broadcasters and then executive producing ideas we get commissioned as single documentaries or series.
Every day, along with the team, I discuss new ideas and who we might pitch them to. Pitching takes a lot of work – it will start with a one-line idea but before an idea is commissioned it could take up to a year’s work to make it happen, particularly if we are gaining access to a company or institution. Other ideas can be commissioned very quickly – a matter of days. A commission might start with a one-line sell, but it could then involve putting together a detailed treatment (pitch document) or sizzle tape (a short tape selling the characters or ‘precinct’ we’re planning to film in).
What is the best and worst part of the job?
The best part of the job is seeing the journey of an idea that started in a casual conversation or email actually appearing on screen – knowing that the thought that first interested us often several months ago is now being beamed into the homes of millions of people and entertaining/informing them, as the result of the hard work of a lot of people. That’s quite a privilege and a thrill too. We also get access into fascinating (often ‘behind-closed-doors’ places) and a window into the world of people – some famous, some ‘everyday’ – that we wouldn’t get to look through if we weren’t making a TV show about them – whether it’s a fire service or working with a household name.
The worst part of the job is that for every idea that gets commissioned, dozens won’t. And there may be ones you spend months on, even longer, really believe in, and in the end it doesn’t make it across the finishing line for reasons you couldn’t possibly control. You just have to accept it as part of the business and know that every single development team and television company goes through the same rollercoaster ride.
What’s your view of the northern voice in broadcasting?
Television is a global business these days and we can be pitching ideas set in any part of the world to broadcasters based anywhere. Ultimately though, we do not want to miss great stories happening on our own doorstep. We have always wanted to put a big flag in the North of England and claim it as our own (our team members have made series like The Dales, The Lakes and Tales From Northumberland with Robson Green as well as The Metro: A Rail Life Story for Wise Owl). There are not many companies pitching documentaries and series that reflect life, in a non-stereotypical way, in the North of England. We want to challenge national perceptions of the region.
What advice would you give to your younger self or someone aspiring to work in the creative industries?
If you want a career in TV enough, it will happen. Never take no for an answer. Keep going. Get your foot in the door any way you can in any capacity. You will get a lot of rejections but always remember you only need one person to say yes.
What would you say are the top three skills (or attitude) required for someone who wants to work in the sector?
A sense of journalism and story-telling – is this a good story that other people will be interested in, and if so, why?
Curiosity – the ability to ask the right questions and dig deep.
Determination – there will be loads of setbacks on every production but ride the wave and you will get through them.