22 Jan 2021
James Levison describes the ScreenSkills high-end TV co-producer programme as “a completely life-changing experience” because it landed him a role on what became the international hit series Killing Eve.
He had previously worked in television with jobs including associate producing Peter Kosminsky's award-winning dramas Britz (2007) and The Promise (2011).
He then moved more into film worked on Alistair Beaton’s TV film The Trial of Tony Blair, was a co-producer on Toby Jones’ film Leave to Remain and “like all budding film producers I did shorts and tried to get things off the ground in a tough environment. In the world of film. It’s really hard to earn a living,” he said.
“It’s also very hard to step into the television world and there are lots of very understandable reasons for that. Lots of people in TV want to be producers.”
After his foray in film, he rediscovered how tough TV can be when he looked to resume television work and found many of his previous contacts had moved on. He found himself struggling to get interviews.
Having worked on everything from finance to development in order to understand all aspects of the industry, he was, as he put it, “jack of all trades, master of none”.
He goes on: “Then a friend told me about ScreenSkills’ high-end TV co-producer scheme.” The step-up scheme supports individuals to step up into the role of high-end TV producer and helps them build a network of contacts.
After an interview he was accepted on the programme and began meeting others on the programme and taking part in masterclasses with producers and commissioners which he said was “invaluable”.
With ScreenSkills funding part of each participant’s wages, the place came with a backing that “might also reduce the risk in people’s eyes; they would pay for half my wage and give me proper hands on experience.
“That meant when production companies found out about the scheme, they would ask for CVs…I got asked to be interviewed for a show called Killing Eve and met a producer called Colin Wratten.”
He joined the first series of the Sid Gentle show as assistant producer and its huge success for the BBC “meant the job opened so many doors for me as you can imagine”.
James said he owed a great deal to Sid Gentle and to Colin, “because he empowered me to do my job”. He added: “It wasn’t just mentoring, it became more than that. He would trust me to set up blocks and go out abroad with the team and be the producer on set - always of course reporting back to him.”
From there he was able to get an agent, which helped get him interviews and then he got his break as a sole lead producer on ITV detective drama Endeavour. He was asked back to do the same job for the next series “to take Endeavour through these pandemic times, so I’m building that now.”
James, now 43 years old, concludes: “Without the ScreenSkills scheme I wouldn’t have got Killing Eve and wouldn’t have learnt all I did from Colin. People really do take you seriously when you do it and you go into a room with confidence that actually you do know what you’re doing.”
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