As a documentary producer, former commissioning editor for Welsh broadcaster S4C and current Managing Director of indie production house Cwmni Da, Llion Iwan is no stranger to the world of content creation. It’s something that helps make him a key member of our Unscripted TV Skills Council and chair of the post-production working group.
Having seen the sector evolve around him over the years, ensuring that newcomers have the support and mentorship necessary to prepare them for a career in this high-value corner of TV production is a topic he’s incredibly passionate about. It’s also something he’s now able to actively guide alongside the wider Unscripted TV Skills Council, ensuring that the industry he cares so much about remains a healthy, supportive and welcoming place for the next generation to inherit.
“Having been in the industry for 26 years and running my own company which employs many people full-time, you start to see the problems that could cripple it in the future if not addressed,” says Iwan, detailing his reasons for joining the working group. “It’s not just the lack of formal training but also problems around title inflation, which is where people are given titles far too early without mentorship. A squeeze on budgets means there’s less money for training so you end up pushing people into senior roles when they don’t have the experience to draw upon.” According to Iwan, this is a critical issue that ultimately feeds into itself: “I’ve seen people new to the industry see others quickly get title promotions and ask for the same - but they’re not ready.”
A few years back, Iwan took some time out to work as a media lecturer at Bangor University while studying for a PHD in documentary film and juggling freelance responsibilities. It was an experience that allowed him to see behind the curtain at the level of training on offer to new recruits - and exactly what needed to change. “It was a chance to take a step back and analyse what was happening in the industry and also what was going on in colleges and universities.”
“They were offering all sorts of courses but they weren’t really preparing people for the industry. It costs more in time and money to make a course that provides practical skills and it’s far easier to offer theoretical discussions and history - but that doesn’t really the prepare you for the working industry.”
With this skills-gap knowledge firmly in mind, Iwan began implementing some new training techiques into Cwmni Da, his employee-owned production company which is responsible for shows likes of Gogglebox Wales and the Michael Sheen-fronted documentary Valleys Rebellion. Joining the skills fund working group, he was also relieved to discover that he wasn’t the only one noticing these issues. Combined, it set the stage perfectly for realigning the narrative and practical processes of unscripted skills training on a much broader scale.
“These things have been on my mind for years,” he admits. “Once we started addressing them in our company we quadrupled how much we were investing in training and that will ensure we’re in a far stronger position in the medium-to-long term. All of these things also feed into what we’re doing at ScreenSkills."
“The stuff I’ve noticed has been repeated by various working groups and what struck me was how keen people were to address these problems and come up with practical solutions. It’s not just liberating but a relief that I wasn’t thinking this alone. With ScreenSkills, there’s funding to support a formal training infrastructure but a lot of the people developing it are doing it because they want to. They’re working to help the industry.”
By collaborating with fellow working group chairs and initiating a process for sharing ideas, Iwan and the council have begun developing new forms of training specifically designed to help alleviate glaring skills gaps, many of which are listed on the ScreenSkills website. However, while the team discovered that overall awareness around the wide range of roles on offer in the sector is good among new recruits, there is one key element that requires some extra attention.
“One of the things newcomers are quite naturally lacking is an understanding of how to make a programme,” suggests Iwan. “You can put content together and put it out but it’s something completely different to craft it and make it work creatively, for the audience, the business and, crucially, for the individuals behind it so they’re not being overworked and actually enjoying it.”
This is one area that the Unscripted TV Skills Council is working to fix and by doing so, benefit the overall sector. “ScreenSkills brings people from various companies together to share ideas and tailor them to courses that are practical, quickly implemented and have been thought through with regards to recruitment and filling skills gaps. If it works in unscripted, it can be rolled out elsewhere too.”
Speaking of the bigger picture, ensuring the sector remains inclusive and open to all employees regardless of their location or cultural background is a key part of the council’s work and something Iwan is already tackling in his own company: “It can be done on a very practical level by setting targets.”
“But in our company, it has began conversations about how we can achieve this not just for courses and training but when we’re recruiting. At one stage we were primarily uniform in that everybody who we employed had been to university. Now there’s a good number who haven’t. We’re based in an area of North West Wales that’s quite socially deprived so we’re giving training and employment opportunities to people who probably wouldn’t have been given them in the past,” reveals Iwan. “You’re looking at what people can offer not what they can afford in education.”
While film, high-end TV and unscripted content is worth a considerable amount to the overall UK economy, without the proper skills training in place, this growth could soon be stopped in its tracks. While Iwan believes the government could do more to financially support the unscripted sector, he’s pleased that the industry is taking its future in its own hands and safeguarding its own success. To this end, he has big hopes for its future and the career paths of those responsible for making unmissable shows.
“I hope newcomers are comfortable in the fact that it might take a couple of years to become a series producer or producer - but that’s natural. You learn along the way and hopefully the environment will exist to support that journey, so there’s no danger of burning out,” says Iwan, looking ahead. “If workers are happy, trained and motivated, they’ll invest into the content which comes back to viewers and creates a healthy environment. I hope people coming into the industry are more aware of the opportunities and support available and when someone starts out, it’s simple for them to find courses and mentorships,” he adds. “What ScreenSkills is doing will enable, encourage and inspire the sector to follow this path and show that there’s benefits for everybody involved.”
Find out more about unscripted TV
Read more about the Skills Fund and training opportunities in unscripted TV