‘We’re live on air’ – XpoNorth Live! returns

Siobhan Synnot interviewing Joe Gibbs, founder and director, Belladrum Festival. Picture: Paul Campbell

By Jan Patience

Once upon a time, when XpoNorth was known as goNORTH, it ran a festival radio station, which trained a group of aspirant radio producers and presenters looking to gain hands-on experience in producing live radio content. Radio goNORTH ran for five consecutive years, from 2012-2015, and as a direct result, trainees started finding jobs in the industry.

Spurred on by this success, XpoNorth festival director, Amanda Millen, who has a proven track record as a producer in radio, television and film, decided to take it to the next level and stage a live festival television sta-tion. XpoNorth Live! roared onto the scene at XpoNorth last year, staffed by an eager group of trainee researchers, co-ordinators, editors, camera opera-tors, sound recordists, data wranglers and floor managers.

The broadcasting equipment was provided by Glasgow-based production company, Visual Impact Scotland, which supplies state-of-the-art kit to production companies throughout Scotland. Headed up by an experienced director, producer and presenter, XpoNorth Live! filled 18 hours of television filmed in front of a live audience of conference delegates at Eden Court in Inverness.

Described by one trainee researcher, Isla Turner, as “by far the most stressful and thrilling thing I have done in my life”, the team produced 87 individual video items and learned the hard, hands-on way that it’s not all glamour in TV Land. Turner, who has gone on to take up a place on the Edinburgh-based Traverse Young Writers programme says: “I would definitely recommend XpoNorth Live! for anyone wanting to work in film or TV, or generally any-one wanting to build confidence for working in the creative industries.”

Fellow researcher, Gary Hughes, recalls: “I had no experience of working in a live studio. Over the course of ten days a small team of trainees, including myself, with guidance from industry professionals managed to create three days of television. The week before, we learned research techniques, contacted contributors and guests and scripted for our host Siobhan Synnot. During the festival, we worked as live producers, runners and some of us even had the opportunity to host the channel. Even with the pressure and long hours it was a tremendous experience and a lot of fun. I met a wonderful group of people and began building my professional network.”

Since completing the training, Hughes has worked as a freelance in a variety of roles for the BBC.  He has contributed to BBC The Social, creat-ing his own short films. He also interned with the BBC1’s The One Show as a researcher and, most recently, has been working as a dailies runner for BBC Scotland’s flagship drama, River City.  “I don’t think any of this would have been possible without the guidance, confidence and training gained from my experience with XpoNorth Live!” he admits.

Presenter Siobhan Synnot, who will be back in the hot-seat for XpoNorth Live! 2017, adds: “XpoNorth is a unique event. Open to all, and drawing enthusiastic participants from all over Scotland, the UK and the world, so  it makes sense to combine all this amazing content with a training initiative for the next generation of  TV producers and technicians. Over three days – we have a ‘practice day’ on the day before XpoNorth begins – I conducted 30 live interviews with speakers involved in the daytime aspect of the conference and witnessed umpteen live bands play for the cameras. It also gave me an insight into the breadth of creative industries subject matter covered during the conference.”

This year, in the ten days leading up to the festival, a new batch of 17 trainees will join Siobhan and XpoLive! director Alan de Pellette, to be schooled in this unique television production and technical craft boot-camp. Alan has more than 20 years experience as a producer and director in radio and television, working on the creation of hit shows such as Off the Ball and Still Game. “XpoNorth Live! is great fun to work on as it’s fast, exciting and has so many things happening at once. The adrenalin flows and your brain and all your senses work at full capacity. For trainees to get this kind of experience is an incredible opportunity and is worth a year of doing any kind of TV course!

“People interested in working in production get thrown in at the coal face and are given opportunities to meet amazing contributors and produce their own programme segments. For those interested in working on the technical side, they get unparalleled access to a TV studio and the chance to shoot or record live interviews and bands. You simply can’t buy that kind of experience when you are starting out in your career!”

XpoNorth director, Amanda Millen adds: “The trainees learn all the behind-the scenes skills they need to produce a live entertainment magazine show. They also get the chance to network with commissioners, employers and freelancers currently at the top of the TV and digital broadcast industry in Scotland and beyond. The cost of offering each place comes in about £2000 a place but trainees get to do the course free of charge. In return we expect them to give it their all to make the most of this fantastic opportunity.”