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Geraint ‘Arktic’ Abbott, known as Geggs to his friends, has been at FXhome.com since 2003, always on hand to offer sage advice whether it’s relating to safety, legal issues or practical filmmaking techniques. Geggs is particularly qualified in TV production, having studied it an university (where he was also a crucial part of the student TV station) before going on to work at various London-based organisations, including the BBC.
Despite his success Geggs is still a regular face in the community and earlier this year he accompanied Matt ‘Hybrid-Halo’ Plummer to visit the FXhome HQ and feast his eyes upon our latest developments, becoming only the third person outside of the company to have Insider Knowledge. We thought it was time to catch up with the Twinkie-loving, Bieber-directing mediaphile to find out about his life and career.
1. Where are you working these days and what’s your job?
I'm currently at the BBC, where I'm the editor of The 5:19 Show, as well as sometimes directing the show. It is amazing. The team I'm working with are all fantastic, my producers are brilliant, I get to meet loads of cool celebs, and the job just gives me so much opportunity to be creative and experience things I'd otherwise never get to do. Above all, it's fun! As well as 5:19, I'm a freelance FCP editor and motion graphic designer/animator.
2. Did your school and university studies help you break into the industry in the early years?
100% yes. I studied Broadcasting at Leeds University – though I hear that the course will be closing after this year, sadly – and, as part of the course, I did a three month work placement with CBBC. For many of my course mates, their placements led pretty much directly to their first jobs in TV - and likewise, I got my first interview and first job when I was recommended to a producer by someone who I worked with on my placement. And many of my friends from Uni are all in the media, and it's really helpful to have such a great network of people who can let you know about jobs that are going, or put in a good word for you - I think that basically every job I've had since leaving Uni has been because I've been recommended by either a coursemate or someone I've worked with, which is great.
3. You were involved extensively with your university student TV station, as I recall. Was that a valuable learning experience? What kind of stuff did you do?
Student TV is an amazing way for you to find out what kind of jobs you'd be best at - you get to try your hand at everything: camera, floor managing, directing, vision mixing, sound, editing, graphics and post production.... the list is basically endless, because you can go out and make whatever films and programmes you want, and you can do whatever jobs on them you want. I think you learn so much more by just getting out there, getting your hands dirty, and doing something. It's an amazing breeding ground for creativity and innovation - especially because you will probably be working on a tiny budget, which gives you the skills to be able to adapt and come up with ways of getting around your limitations - something which will be invaluable when you move into the industry, and make you vastly more employable.
4. The TV station won several awards while you were there. How much involvement did you have with those programmes?
A varying amount of input really - for some projects I was part of an editing team, for others I was the sole editor, for some I was the producer or part of the writing team, for some I did the visual effects or graphics, in others I acted in them – well, if you can call my role in 'Video Killed the Radio Star' acting... As I say, student TV really gives you the chance to try out a wide range of different roles within a production, and all of those have different levels of involvement. But I think the best feeling was the 'Best Broadcaster' award, which we won twice during my three years with the station - because that recognises the achievements of every single member of the team.
Michael Cera is in Scott Pilgrim, out now. You should probably go see it.
5. Did you have a plan for what to do after graduating? What made you move to the big city?
The plan for a long time was to look for work in the North - but after looking into it for a while, I soon came to the conclusion that most of the media work in the UK is in London, and it pretty much made sense to move down to London with my friends from the course who were moving down at the same time. The decision to make the move was made a little easier because I had a number of friends from the year above me at Uni who had already made the big move and were doing really well for themselves.
7. How quickly did you adapt to London life?
I grew up in Cumbria and Lancashire - two pretty rural areas compared to a big city like London. Luckily though, Leeds is an amazing city which was sort of a three-year stepping stone from moving from the North to London. Also, it's easy to forget that London is a massive city with many different areas, each with their own different lifestyle and culture; at the moment I'm living in the leafy South East of the city, where the pace of life is a little more suburban and chilled than in other parts of the city, which suits me fine at the moment. But for other friends who want to be a bit more 'in the action', there are parts of the city which are more lively - so it's easy to find somewhere that you're comfortable with. Plus, there's just SO MUCH happening in London, you could never be bored here.
8. Did you start on the bottom rung? How did you work your way up the career ladder?
My placement was working as a runner, which is pretty much the standard first job you get in TV - lots of going to pick up kit, dropping off tapes, looking after contributors, and making tea! But it was also a really good chance to meet some awesome people, which is how I got my first paying job. Also, the BBC is great for getting training in a lot of areas - I left that placement with many more shooting skills than when I started, for example. Then I was quite lucky in that the next job I took was as a researcher at an independent documentary company - I started with them on a six week contract, and ended up staying with them for over a year, which was brilliant.
9. You were a researcher for a while. What kind of skills did you need for that job? Was it all about looking in books, or did it involve more than that?
Being a researcher in TV is really fun, it's much more than just going to a library and reading books of statistics. The title 'researcher' can be a little misleading - during my time as a researcher I filmed on a pirate ship (a recreation of the HMS Bounty) in the North Sea, shot interviews with UFO experts, played an alien and a policeman in a drama reconstruction shoot, spent a week in an abattoir, spent another week in a drug rehab clinic, and a lot of time on the phone to a HUGE variety of experts and contributors. I also spent a lot of time surfing the web - but you really have to know where to look for the right information, and how to check the info you've found. There is a lot to be said at the end of the day for a well-written book on a subject!
10. How did you move from researcher to working more directly on shows?
One of the things about the industry at the moment is there's a lot of scope for people to multi-skill and specialise in a number of different roles. Especially when you're starting out, it's not unusual for people to move between different skill sets. I was lucky enough to be offered a job as an edit assistant just when I was looking to get more into post-production.
11. What was the process of moving up to being a director? Was it a natural evolution, or were you actively seeking the jobs and moving companies?
It kind of came around quite naturally - when I got my current role at the BBC, I wasn't expecting to direct anything at all. Initially I was taken onboard as a researcher who could edit, but that soon turned into a fairly full-on editing role, with not quite as much research as I'd initially anticipated. I started out as part of a small team doing the 'continuity' (also known as links) for the BBC Switch zone on BBC2, and after a while it made sense for me to start directing/vision-mixing the line cut of the links, because it sped up the post production process. And now that The 5:19 Show has transitioned from web to TV, I've been lucky enough to direct a few episodes of that, as well as being the show's editor.
Yes, Geggs has directed Justin Bieber. True story.
12. What kind of programmes are you working on these days?
Mainly I'm working on The 5:19 Show, which is a studio based teen magazine show. We have a live daily online show every weekday at 5:19pm (hence the name!), as well as a Saturday afternoon TV show on BBC2, and there's also a 5:19 show on BBC Radio 1 every Sunday evening, though I'm not really very involved with the radio side of things. But we're probably the only programme in the country which is totally multi-platform. As well as the studio sections (mainly celebrity interviews and pop music performances), we also do a lot of location VTs, sketches and other bits and pieces - it's really varied, which is one of the great things about the job. I also work on a teen soap opera from time to time, as well as other bits and pieces of freelance editing.
13. Most FXhomers are more familiar with directing dramas and action sequences. How different is it directing studio shows?
When you think about it, the point of directing something visual - be it an action sequence with 20 or 30 different setups, or a two-plus-one interview with three cameras on peds - the goal is basically the same: to give meaning to the audience. The difference between a film and a studio show is that obviously there's less action going on in the studio, and there's also a fair amount of convention that you have to follow. But some of the process is reasonably similar; you need to direct the talent to deliver the lines in the way that you want them delivered, you need people to hit the right marks at the right times, and you need to make sure that all your shots look the way you want them to look.
14. Do you do live broadcasts? If so, how does that differ? How do you cope with the inevitable pressure?
Our webshows are live broadcasts, and that's always a pretty nervewracking experience - there's a lot that can go wrong! But because of the pretty chaotic and hectic nature of our live webshows, if something goes wrong, we'll make a feature of it. For example, if the sound desk breaks, the presenters will often go over to the sound operator and shout at them until they fix it. That eases a lot of the pressure, knowing that it's quite a laid back environment where pretty much anything goes, and we can make a joke out of something like the sound effects not working properly or a prop breaking.
15. Where do you plan to take your career next?
To be totally honest, I'm not entirely sure at the moment. If you'd asked me what I wanted to do a few years ago, I'm sure I wouldn't have predicted where I'd be now. I think that eventually I'd like to be a 'Preditor' - which is a Producer/Editor... mainly because the name is awesome! Perhaps I might get back into factual programming, or perhaps try my hand at drama. I'm not sure - as long as it pays the bills and I enjoy it, then that's the main thing, so I'm keeping my options open.
16. Despite your success we’re very glad to see that you’re still a regular face at FXhome.com and regularly help filmmakers out with techniques, safety and legal info. What appeals to you about being involved with the community?
Well, I learned a lot through FXh, and I still pick up new tips and tricks all the time. I think that online communities are just like ones in real life, and you get out what you put in. And if I can help people out by sharing some of my knowledge, then hopefully in turn they will do the same for others, and more and more people will be able to benefit from the collective resources that the FXh community has to offer.
Geggs shot the 8mm segments and edited this segment.
17. You keep in regular contact with Matt Plummer and have met up with numerous other FXhomers such as er-no and Sollthar. Are you always keen to get to know your online contacts ‘offline’ as well?
To be honest, I don't often meet up with people that I've met online - you never can tell who's going to turn out to be a dirty old geezer in a mac. As it turned out, Matt doesn't wear a mac, but all the same... Seriously though, I think that the net is a great way to meet people, and when you've been friends online for several years, it can be nice to meet up in real life (making sure that you're safe about it!).
18. You helped Matt get a foot in the door in the early days of his VFX career. Are you seriously just that nice a guy?
It's like the community thing, really - our industry is relatively small, and I think you'll get out what you put in. If you help someone out, then it's quite probable that they might be in a position to help you out in the future. With Matt, he'd previously helped me out when I needed some graphics doing on a tiny, tiny budget. So a few months down the line, when I heard about a job opportunity, I recommended him for the position, he got the job, and he's gone on to great things from there.
19. You were recently invited up to FXhome HQ to take a look at what we’re working on. What were your general impressions?
In the words of Borat... Wah wah wee wah! It all looks, seriously, seriously exciting. Can't say much that won't give the game away, but I cannot wait!
20. FXhome has changed and developed hugely over the last 10 years, just as you’ve gone from student to successful professional. Is this the path you expected to be on?
If I'd been asked a few years ago what I'd be doing now, I really don't think I would've expected to be living in London, let alone editing and directing shows for the BBC. Hopefully things will keep going the way they have so far - like I say, as long as it pays the bills and keeps me happy, then it's all good!
21. Who is your favourite member of staff at FXhome?
Depends who can get me access to the new stuff soonest! ;-p
Geggs also likes to dress as a penguin. Fact.
Thanks to Geggs for answering our questions! Hopefully his wise words will be of use to anybody else looking to work in the TV industry.
We'll be taking a break from Spotlights next week as I'm out of the office, but we'll be back in a fortnight with some more in-depth interviewing!