As part of the Beyond Reality interview series, I interviewed Erica Foley, a senior story producer who has worked on shows such as Big Brother, Australian Survivor and human interest campaigns for R U OK? Day and the ‘Yes’ vote for marriage equality. We look back on her 12 year career in television and how her passion for story-telling has informed her choices as a TV producer.
To listen to the full interview, check out the Beyond Reality podcast here: Beyond Reality Podcast – Erica Foley
Did you always want to work in TV?
I have an interesting relationship with television. I didn’t particularly want to work in television but I did want to work in documentaries. I was really fascinated in educational and exploratory shows. I was always interested in putting together pictures and motion and sound – I like the tapestry of what television is but television itself as a medium was not my end goal.
Did you go to University and if so, what did you study?
I went to university, I did a double degree. I did anthropology, sociology and social work as part of my social science degree. I did media and communication majoring in visual media. That’s what I was hoping would be the perfect storm to get me into documentaries and into that really interesting world.
What was your first job in reality TV and how did you land it?
After uni, I spent a lot of time working for free as it was allowed and expected back in that day! I was working in the industry for free on and off for over a year before I landed my first job. You had to be pretty persistent with it. There was one company that I worked for over in WA, that I was trying to get in on the wildlife documentaries on but when it comes to documentaries, it’s all based on obtaining funding and the funding just wasn’t coming through. A job came up and someone who I’d met through all my time volunteering on set put my name forward for it and they gave me a brilliant reference and said that my level of enthusiasm and desire to work would be great for the show. So I landed my first job as a production assistant on Farmer Wants A Wife.
What different roles have you done in reality TV and how did you get to where you are now?
Starting at the very bottom, I have been a runner, production assistant, street caster, casting associate producer, story associate producer, casting producer, shooting producer, story producer and I’m now a senior story producer. I’ve also done a lot of stuff outside of TV as a media producer, so anything from video, photography to digital stuff.
What’s important to you when you’re choosing your next contract?
When I’m looking at my next contract, I do shows that are aligned with who I am and what I believe in. I think that’s really important cause otherwise you burn out really quickly if a show doesn’t sit with your values. So when I’m picking a contract, I always pick something that’s going to push me to grow in some way or challenge me.
What’s your best piece of advice for someone starting out in TV?
My advice is to write to everyone, call everyone, just try and get a face to face with someone! As soon as you’ve got a face to face, that’s when you can prove that you are an asset to them. When you get your first job in TV, your job is to prove that you are helpful, that you contribute, that you can be part of a team and that you will do anything to get the job done. Your job is not just to photocopy or do the lunch run! Your job is always to look around and look for opportunities you can prove that you are an asset to the production. If you’ve got nothing to do – make yourself useful.
Want to hear more stories from the people behind the TV shows you love? Check out my interview with Story Producer and Challenge Producer, Grant Phillips.
Erica Foley is an Australian-based TV producer who has worked on shows including; Australian Survivor, Big Brother, The Secret Life of Four & Five Year Olds, House Rules, Farmer Wants a Wife and Bondi Rescue.